By the end of this summer, a valuable piece of downtown waterfront might have a new owner.
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Trust Land Office is preparing to put a 3-acre plot of land just off Egan Drive next to the Coast Guard Station Juneau out for bid in the coming months, TLO Executive Director Wyn Menefee said Thursday. The trust acquired the property, known as the subport, in the mid-1990s.
Since then, the property has mostly sat vacant. There have been multiple offers to buy and develop the land, and City and Borough of Juneau officials have long been vocal about their desire for the trust to sell the property. Now, it appears that goal is within reach.
Menefee said the Trust Land Office (TLO) is going to launch a marketing campaign in the next couple months to try to reach companies that might be interested in purchasing the land. At some point during that time, Menefee said, details on how to bid on the land will be posted. Menefee said they’re hoping to award a bid by the end of the summer.
He didn’t want to speculate on what kind of company or development they’d like to see on that land.
“What we likely will not do is pre-prescribe what the company’s going to want to do with the parcel,” Menefee said. “It’s up to them to work out with the community and platting and all that.”
The purpose of AMHTA is to make money off the land that it owns and use that money to benefit those who need mental health care in Alaska.
The decision to sell the property stemmed from a study done by a nonprofit research firm called the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The trust hired the firm last year, paying $50,000 for a study on how the trust can get the most money for the property.
Menefee said the biggest takeaway from the study was that the trust should sell the land instead of leasing it. He said this is a more surefire way to make a reliable amount of money. City Manager Rorie Watt, who has been vocally impatient about the trust’s deliberate decision-making process with the property, said the trust probably didn’t need to spend $50,000 to come to that conclusion.
“They could have taken my free advice the last two years,” Watt said in an interview Thursday. “I wrote to them that their economic interest would be best served by an expeditious sale any number of times.”
Watt said he’s disappointed that it’s taken so long to get this process going, but he’s happy it finally appears to be headed for a sale.
City officials have gone on the record various times in requesting that the AMHTA sell the land. The CBJ Assembly passed a resolution in June 2017 to publicly declare its desire for the trust authority to sell the land sooner rather than later.
The property has nearly been sold multiple times. In 2008, the AMHTA nearly completed a deal with the state to put an office building on the land, but the state backed out.
In the past few years, there has been serious interest from locals wanting to build the Juneau Ocean Center — an educational center that intends on doubling as a meeting place for those in the marine science community.
Despite the interest, the parcel has remained mostly vacant. For a brief period of time in recent years, the property became an impromptu homeless camp until the trust had the property vacated in August 2017.
Waterfront property in downtown Juneau has become a focus of the Assembly in recent years as the tourism industry has grown. Just this week, the Assembly approved several ordinances advancing the downtown waterfront development project and property deal with Archipelago Properties LLC, a private company, which is a subsidiary of Morris Communications (the former owner of the Empire).
Watt said the AMHTA property fits into the larger picture of downtown waterfront being key to Juneau’s economy.
“I think the waterfront is an engine of economic opportunity and this parcel has just been sitting there underutilized for several decades,” Watt said. “I think it’s really important. More activity on the waterfront is good for Juneau and good for our economy.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.