June report – Part 1 of an interview with Travel Juneau’s Liz Perry

In our last note we reported that requests for Congressional and State support for the Capital Civic Center had not come through this year, and that The Partnership Board is exploring its options.  Believing that the need for this Center is broad-based and multi-faceted, John Roxburgh, a member of our Communications Committee, asked Liz Perry of TravelJuneau for her perspective.  We thought you might appreciate her insight.  Attached is Part I of that interview.  Look for Part II, likely in July.  For August, we will hope to provide an update on the board’s anticipated next steps.

Thanks for your continued support, and have a wonderful Fourth of July!
The Communications Committee
The Partnership

An Interview with Liz Perry, part 1 of 2
by John Roxburgh
Liz Perry, President and CEO of Travel Juneau, the capital city’s convention and visitor bureau, which last year joined the alliance promoting the Capital Civic Center project, spoke with us at her office about the expansion of Centennial Hall and how that could be a good economic investment for Juneau. (Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Civic Center Campaign: To begin with, could you please tell us a little about Travel Juneau?

Liz Perry: Sure. Travel Juneau has been operating for a little over 30 years, and we are a 501(c)6 membership organization. We have a number of marketing partners that are in the industry: hoteliers, excursion operators, restauranteurs, retailers. We also have a category for businesses that maybe don’t dig into the industry specifically or directly but are certainly benefitting from the industry. Those would include insurance providers, and printers—the folks who do our rack cards and get those kinds of collaterals out.

We’re overseen by a Board of Directors that is currently being run through the Human Resources Committee of the City and Borough of Juneau, and we have a standing Memorandum of Agreement with the city by which we get our hotel bed tax grant and grant of marine passenger fees.

Why did your organization decide to support the Civic Center project? Is it just because it would make Juneau a more fun and interesting place to visit? Or would it help to attract, say, larger conventions and trade shows? 

I think it’s both. Our charge from the city actually is to sell Centennial Hall as often as possible to all of our meeting planners, and to move off of Centennial only if it is not available for some reason. We recognize that a really vibrant, beautiful civic center/convention center is a draw for all of our constituents up and down the Inside Passage.

I think it’s important for folks to recognize that Centennial is the largest facility of its kind in Southeast Alaska, and that puts Juneau in a pretty unique position. That said, there are some significant issues with the facility that, we’re hearing from meeting planners, make it kind of unsuitable for even a small meeting of 250 to 300 people.

Right now, for example, we don’t have enough meeting space to take a 250-to-300-person meeting and divide them into rooms that would hold 50 or 60 people each … that would require 6 rooms of 50, for example. Then, our planners are telling us that they also want to be able to leave their plenary sessions set in a particular room, they want to have all their meals in a particular room, and they don’t want to be constantly resetting those rooms for different purposes during the course of their meetings or conferences. Those are items that have been a concern of Travel Juneau’s for some time.

Centennial Hall is currently in the process of being renovated. How does the Capital Civic Center project dovetail with the current ongoing renovation? 

The renovations were spec’ed out and put into place with the idea that they would be scalable, and they would work pretty seamlessly into any growth that the facility may experience. So, if we had an opportunity to add an extra floor, if we had an opportunity to expand the footprint of the building, or incorporate more meeting rooms, these renovations would be scalable to fit those needs. The planners at the city intentionally scoped it out and awarded the bid with that in mind.

The renovations that are happening now are all infrastructure pieces really designated to the ballroom section of Centennial Hall. The ballroom’s getting a new floor; it’s getting new paint; they are replacing the partition walls that, you know, were failing. They’ve also taken the opportunity to provide some additional geotech to one of the back walls, adjacent to the kitchen, that would be supporting a second story should the funding become available to expand the building in that way.

The lighting will be changed; they’re upgrading AV, electrical; it’s going to be a really great refresh for the ballroom which is used extensively by the community and by meeting planners as well.

So the ballroom gets a makeover, but we get no additional breakout rooms, and we don’t solve those problems about where you put people between the plenaries and the end of the day? 

Exactly, and I think that is something that has planners concerned. It has Travel Juneau concerned as we approach meeting planners who come to us with these very specific needs, for breakout space or plenary space, and we simply don’t have it. So we’ve—we have—lost business because we did not have an adequately-sized facility even for a meeting, as I mentioned, of 250 to 300 people.

Look for part 2 of this interview to be published later this summer. John Roxburgh is a retired State employee who lives in Juneau. He has served on the Capital Campaign Committee since December 2020, and has been a Travel Juneau summer volunteer since 1997.