Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority is looking at all options in the sale of the subport land along Juneau downtown waterfront on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority is looking at all options in the sale of the subport land along Juneau downtown waterfront on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Mental Health Trust spending time, money on subport property

City officials impatient after years without a sale

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority is spending time and money in evaluating its options for a small property in Juneau, and city officials are growing increasingly impatient.

The AMHTA owns a 3-acre plot of land just off Egan Drive next to Coast Guard Station Juneau, and AMHTA CEO Mike Abbott told the Empire he believes it’s an incredibly valuable parcel.

“It’s a three-acre parcel and we own a million (acres statewide),” Abbott said, “but on a per-square-foot basis, this may be the most valuable piece of undeveloped trust property.”

The trust authority’s entire purpose is to make money off the land that it owns and use that money to benefit those who need mental health care in Alaska, Abbott said. The trust acquired the property in Juneau — which is known as the subport property — in the mid-1990s.

This year, AMHTA hired a nonprofit research firm called the Urban Land Institute to closely examine the parcel and give recommendations to the trust authority about what they can get for the property and what kind of project could work for the land. The researchers began their work Tuesday, Abbott said, and should wrap up Thursday.

Abbott said AMHTA is paying about $50,000 for the study. Abbott said it’s very unusual for the trust to spend this kind of time and money on evaluating a property.

“We don’t have a lot of parcels like this,” Abbott said. “Mostly it’s undeveloped land with resource potential instead of real estate potential. We want to make sure we want to get it right.”

Some people in Juneau, including City Manager Rorie Watt, are running low on patience.

There have been multiple chances over the years to sell the property, Watt said via phone Thursday. 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. Abbott said that possibility isn’t out of the picture.

The CBJ has gone on the record multiple times in requesting that the AMHTA sell the land. The Assembly passed a resolution in June 2017 to publicly declare its desire for the trust authority to sell the land sooner rather than later.

This February, a statement on the CBJ’s website stated that “there is no scenario where the best interests of the AMHTA are not achieved by a simple and quick sale.” This statement also stated that the offer from the Juneau Ocean Center group’s offer was above market value. Watt was adamant that the trust authority could have sold the land and then invested those earnings in the Alaska Permanent Fund, which has grown in the past two years.

“It appears that they’re kind of on a quest for a long-term ground lease at some crazy favorable scenario, but as the time rolls by, they’re losing,” Watt said in an interview Thursday. “It’s driving us crazy.”

At Monday’s City and Borough of Juneau Assembly meeting, Watt said he is “befuddled” by the fact that the trust hasn’t taken an offer in recent years. Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski also expressed her displeasure with the process, and the rest of the Assembly members agreed to have Watt write up a letter to the trust authority reaffirming the Assembly’s desire to see the property sold. Watt said he hopes the letter spurs the trust authority to take action a little faster.

“I believe the issue is not that complicated,” Watt said at the meeting. “Their statute requires them to make decisions in the best interest of the trust and its beneficiaries, which is mostly synonymous with creating revenue for their programs. There’s a strong case that they have been a poor manager of their public mission, and I don’t say that lightly.”

Abbott, who took over as CEO about a year ago, said he knows there are some in the Juneau community are unhappy with the way the trust has operated in the past. He also said he’s striving to be as transparent and communicative as possible.

“I’d say that we’ve probably sent mixed signals to the community in the past,” Abbott said, “but that for the last 12 months, and since the beginning of 2018, I think we’ve been pretty consistent that we’re going through a process that we knew would take several months to complete, that will guide our decision making on the subport going forward.”

Abbott said the researchers should start to share their findings starting Thursday, but it will be a little while before they have a full report for Abbott and the trust authority.

Ideally, Abbott said, they would make a decision soon, but it’s more likely that there will be a little more time until a decision is made.

“I’m interested in turning that into money that can be used on beneficiaries as soon as possible, but that being said, we’re a perpetual trust,” Abbott said. “We’re not just thinking about tomorrow. We’re thinking about a hundred years after tomorrow. I’m not afraid of time, if that is clearly in the interest of the trust in the long term.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority President Mike Abbott says they are looking at all options in the sale of the subport land along Juneau downtown waterfront on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority President Mike Abbott says they are looking at all options in the sale of the subport land along Juneau downtown waterfront on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Dec. 2

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Hunter credits community members for Thanksgiving rescue

KENAI — On Thanksgiving, Alaska Wildlife Troopers released a dispatch about a… Continue reading

Most Read