Veterans Park file photo. DL

EDITORIAL

from the March 15, 2002 Skagway News

Having a hard time understanding logic behind museum partnership

I am truly puzzled. I’ve attended several meetings of the Skagway Museum Board, one last October and another earlier this week. Both dealt extensively with the city’s proposal to create a public/private, 50/50 partnership with Dr. Bob White, a dentist from Juneau, for a museum housing his art collection that he wants to open around the corner from city hall.
The plan calls for White and the city to create a park along the creek trail from Seventh, behind Veteran’s Park and over to Eighth Avenue. White wants to include sculptures along the way with appropriate period lighting.
Both parties would be responsible for 50 percent of the project development costs and maintenance of the park.
Originally, in 1996, White wanted to move the Quonset hut and the memorial stone in order to accommodate his plans, as well as move the Mollie Walsh memorial on Sixth to the path from Sixth to Seventh. By January 2001, he changed his mind about the moves. April 2001, he backed off upgrading the walk from Sixth to Seventh and settled on just Seventh.
The only plans presented so far have been lot plans and a kit home plan from Topsider Building Systems of a round , two-story building for a first-floor gift shop and a second-story residence. There is also a Xerox of what appears to be a three-story, shingled , bow-fronted building that back in Boston we called a “three- decker.” There is no indication of what size the buildings will finally be or what materials will be used.
Last March, the city council received the draft memorandum of what is now called an agreement, but was at first referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding.
The council has been awaiting a decision from the Museum Board whether it will support the proposal. In a meeting Wednesday, they unanimously declined to do so (see City Digest on page 3).
The names White has chosen range from “Skagway Art and Culture Center” to “Alaska Historical Museum.” None of the artists in his collection are local, neither are they Alaskans.
I have asked questions about the proposal, and so far haven’t really been satisfied with the answers.
When I ask why the city would put itself in the position of aiding a private business, I’ve been told that public/private partnerships are common. Maybe so, but in this particular case, doesn’t that leave the city open to further accusations of favoritism from certain former museum owners in town?
Haven’t members of the council said time and again that it’s not the city’s business to ensure the success of a business?
The agreement is essentially for landscaping of Veteran’s Park – don’t we have a Garden Club that landscapes public spaces for free, like the row of trees on State Street in front of the White Pass roundhouse and down by the ferry terminal?
White’s donation of what he says is $100,000 worth of dental equipment from his clinic in Sitka has also been cited as another reason why White’s proposal should receive consideration. However, at a recent council meeting, a letter from Dr. Bill Collier, another dentist from Juneau who held a lease in the Skagway Medical Clinic, suggests the city have a medical equipment appraiser take a look at the equipment to make sure it’s serviceable. Something he has said he has doubts about.
So, this is what I don’t get.
Why would the city enter into an agreement with a non-resident, with a collection of non-resident art, to build a museum within yards of the city’s own museum that house the city’s historical collection, presents exhibitions of local and statewide artists, holds free tours for local students, is open year-round, staffed by locals, and overseen by a local volunteer board?
It would also be three blocks down Broadway from the Skaqua Tribal Council’s proposed cultural center.
Also, as unsophisticated as the landscaping at Veteran’s Park is, isn’t it comforting to still have a space in town that isn’t highly manicured, slick, that’s still wild and overgrown?
The council hasn’t signed off on the agreement yet. I sure hope they don’t. And you? –DIMITRA LAVRAKAS