Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Renaissance for Neglected Jesse Lee Home
Am extremely happy to discover that the new group working on the Jesse Lee Home project seem to be set on turning this historically significant building into more than just a housing project.
Previous proposals for the building included low income, senior, or assisted living housing. These were shortsighted and inappropriate uses of what should be a public building.
With its ideal location next to residential neighborhoods and local schools, Jesse Lee begs to be made a place where friends and neighbors join together to explore the legacy of our past and to bring to fruition the hopes we have for our future. Alaskan children were the focus of the Jesse Lee Home, and children should be inside her walls again.
If the building is physically suitable to be an apartment complex then she is fit to be an interactive learning library and museum that greatly enhances the quality of life for ALL of our citizens. Revamp the stage that is already there and you have a delightful place for a readers theater, roadshows, one-act plays, music recitals and small group meetings. A place to grab a cup of cocoa, talk about the latest mystery novel, or research on the internet would draw regulars.
By combining an interactive museum with the public library we could have displays that educate and stimulate, room for archives and researchers, and consolidate staffing. We would be able to host traveling exhibits and symposiums.
A few well-placed meeting rooms inside the Jesse Lee Home could help support its maintenance by hosting group small conferences - that year-round income doesn't hurt the rest of Seward either. Such a venue also brings the perpetual grant money that straight housing will never find.
Anyone who suggests that it is too far away from downtown and no one would go there, or that moving the museum/library from downtown would somehow diminish the quality of what Fourth Avenue has to offer is being less than progressive in their thinking. Seward is only three miles long, access is not an issue, and the Jesse Lee Home merits being a focal point in this community.
Seniors have a great transportation network in this city, no doubt the trolley would be happy to follow the same route the school buses do. The lots behind Jesse Lee could be paved and landscaped into an attractive parking lot. Students from all over could stay at Jesse Lee for a semester while attending classes unavailable in their villages.
With a population that is 30% Alaska Native, Seward is rural student-friendly in size, layout, and location. Jesse Lee is ideal for that purpose. Historically we opened our arms to those populations. As the Gateway to Alaska we embraced all of the state's cultures with respect and dignity, which is how we got the Jesse Lee Home here in the first place.
Jesse Lee could be successfully marketed as a destination location for the tourist trade, while at the same time enhancing the quality-of-life of the people of Seward as a public-use campus...honoring our past, meeting the needs of our present, and ensuring the strength of our future generations.
Restoration of the Jesse Lee Home has been plagued by naysayers since the earthquake. It is a proud legacy, not just for the people of Seward, but for all of Alaska. Our heritage deserves better than to be dumbed down into a low income housing complex.
I am happy that the powers that be have reconsidered the proposed use of this remarkable building and under their stewardship Jesse Lee will be given the opportunity to make as significant an impact on our future as she has made on our past.
I was relieved last night when the Seward City Council voted unanimously to place the Jesse Lee as the number one priority for the Historical Preservation Commission.
I am grieved to note that one of my fellow council members expressed concern that this project may shift city administration resources from other projects they deemed "more worthy."
We need to get behind this effort, 100%, with no reservations. Our stewardship over this historical gem has been horrendously irresponsible, and that wrong needs to be righted.
at 1:19 PM