City officials and commercial entities broke ground on the Riverview Senior Living facility Wednesday afternoon as construction begins on the facility.
Aiming to open its doors by spring of 2023, the facility will allow older members of the community to stay in the town they’ve spent their lives in as infrastructure requirements for their continued existence mount.
“Juneau has needed additional elder living for a long time,” said Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon during the groundbreaking ceremony. “This opens up new opportunities for elders to staying their community as they age in place.”
Alaska in general, and Southeast Alaska in particular, have a growing number of seniors, with more than one in four residents of the Southeast over the age of 60 in 2020 according to the Alaska Commission on Aging, part of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
“We sure do have an aging population,” said Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt. “There are lots of seniors and families that need care.”
Without sufficient facilities to cater to the needs of an aging population, elders might have to move elsewhere, Weldon said.
The project received assistance in getting started from the city, Watt said, in order to reduce risk and the high cost of construction for projects in Southeast Alaska.
“(I said to the Assembly), ‘We think we have to buy the land. We think we have to do an abatement, And we think we have to write a check, too,’” Watt said. “The Assembly looked at me like, ‘What?’”
The purchase of the land was followed by a structured sale to Torrey Pines Development, the California company working with the city to build the Riverview. A 12-year tax abatement and $2 million dollar grant helped reduce risk and up-front costs for the company building the $32 million dollar facility.
“From an outside perspective, there is a lot of risk and a lot of cost to build in Alaska,” said Matt Parks, president of Torrey Pines. “But the need was there. It was easy to get comfortable with the market demand.”
Parks credits a chance meeting with Sioux Douglas, president of Senior Citizens Support Services Inc., with the hard work gathering data and offering options, for his interest in working with Juneau to get a facility built.
“I left that meeting thinking, ‘We have to do this. We have to build a care facility here,’’” Parks said. “So many stars had to align in just the right order.”
The city and Torrey Pines began working together in 2019 to develop a plan for the project, after two other companies had looked at the idea of developing an elder living facility and walked away.
High costs of material, land, labor all combine to make risks in developing projects in Southeast Alaska risky, but the incentives the city offered lessened the risk and kept the project moving forward, Parks said.
“This is when the city’s support became the linchpin for the project moving forward,” Parks said. “Candidly, without the city’s support, this project would never have gotten off the ground.”
Working with city officials, Douglas and others, Parks and Torrey Pines select Dawson Construction as the general contractor for the project. While the pandemic has tied up many resources, it hasn’t stopped Torrey Pines and the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly from working together to meet the need for expanded elder living spaces in Juneau, Watt said. First National Bank Alaska, which will be providing financing for the project, was also recognized as a major partner in the public-private venture by Douglas.
“The Assembly took that leap. Matt (Parks) took that leap,” Watt said. “And we think it’s working alright for us.”
With the ground broken, the facility is expected to open its doors in 16-18 months, Watt said. Day-to-day operations will be run by Northstar Senior Living.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or email@example.com.