The city will proceed with the demolition of the Gastineau Apartments. On Monday night, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly declined a proposal that would have forestalled the demolition in favor of a proposal to renovate and restore the fire-damaged complex.
PPP LLC, a Seattle-based company working with Juneau resident Wayne Coogan of Coogan Construction, asked the Assembly to delay the demolition by 30 days. That would have allowed it time to flesh out its plans to restore the complex.
PPP announced Oct. 29 that it had reached a deal to purchase the apartment complex from owners James and Camilla Barrett. The Gastineau Apartments — a series of three connected buildings — have been vacant since Nov. 5, 2012, when a towering fire engulfed the building at 127 South Franklin St.
While the fire was confined primarily to the building closest to Franklin Street, water damage, squatters and neglect have since rendered all three buildings unlivable.
In March, the complex caught fire a second time, prompting the Assembly to allocate $1.8 million from the West Juneau-Douglas Highway Access Study for the building’s demolition.
James and Camilla Barrett have been resistant to the idea of demolition and have previously stated they hoped to sell the building and land. City officials and the Assembly have grown increasingly insistent that action must be taken promptly. The complex’s decaying condition prompted the temporary closure of the small park in front of the complex once already.
Several Assembly members expressed concerns that halting the demolition even temporarily — as PPP and Coogan requested — was too risky. The city, they said, might end up stuck with the buildings in their current state for even longer.
“Could we, in March or April, find ourselves in the same position we’ve found ourselves in with the Gastineau before?” Assembly member Karen Crane asked PPP representative and construction attorney Garth Schlemlein.
Schlemlein, who presented the company’s plans to the Assembly, assured Crane and other members that would not happen. After seven people, most downtown business owners, testified in favor of demolishing the blighted apartments, the Assembly decided to stay the course.
“Quite frankly, the more I’m hearing tonight, I’m mad as hell,” said Tracy LaBarge, owner of Tracy’s Crab Shack, during the public comment period. LaBarge said she favors an earlier proposal to build a boutique hotel on the property by Jeremy Bauer and Jason Clifton of Bauer/Clifton Interiors. “It’s time for the city to tear this thing down,” she said.
Bauer and Clifton both testified in favor of demolishing the apartment complex, too.
Assembly member Kate Troll asked City Engineering Director Rorie Watt if the project could still be finished by its scheduled completion date of April 30 if the city granted PPP its request for extra time. Watt said he didn’t think the city “could keep the same completion date at the same price.”
He advised that if the city was to try and keep both options open — demolition and restoration — it would need to issue a limited notice to proceed to CBC Construction, the Sitka contractors who won the demolition contract. This would allow the firm to “do all the things they’d have to before they actually initiate the work,” Watt said. “This would be all on paper.”