Expanding senior housing for Juneau is an easy goal for the city Assembly to get behind, but members had some qualms about giving $2 million to a private company for a new facility in Vintage Park.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting at City Hall Monday night, the committee ultimately voted to send the ordinance on to the regular Assembly, but not without debate.
In the proposed ordinance, the City and Borough of Juneau would give $2 million to Torrey Pines Development, a private developer which would build and run a $32 million assisted living facility on Clinton Drive in Vintage Park in the Mendenhall Valley.
That facility would have room for 88 beds for assisted living, memory care, and a range of the senior services and amenities, according to the text of the ordinance.
But while Assembly members agreed more senior housing was needed and the project overall would be beneficial for the community, there were concerns from members the project would ultimately be successful.
Part of Torrey Pines’ plan calls for making eight of the available beds reserved for Medicaid patients. If Medicaid patients were not available, the company would want the city to provide a 12-year tax abatement program, according to an information packet provided at the meeting.
According to the proposed terms, Torrey Pines would pay for the property over 20 years, paying nothing for the first three years. The company would then pay nearly $4,500 monthly for seven years and then more than $12,000 monthly for 10 years for a total of nearly $1.9 million. Under the city’s tax abatement program, Torrey Pines would pay no taxes for the first 12 years of payments to the city.
“$2 million should feel uncomfortable to you,” City Manager Rorie Watt told committee members but over the long term he believes the project will prove worth the money. Watt pointed to past projects which required substantial public investment, including providing drinking water to certain areas of the city and developing city harbors.
According to Torrey Pines’ proposed budget, the finished facility would have up to 47 daily employees in addition to the $32 million spent on local construction.
If successful, the project would help the meet a number of goals outlined in the city’s Housing Action Plan and Economic Development Plans, Chief Housing Officer Scott Ciambor said.
The Housing Action Plan recommends the city spend up to $50,000 per unit to housing in Juneau to counter a stuck market, according to documents provided to the committee. A $2 million investment by the city for 80 units comes out to half that amount at $25,000 a unit. Additionally, the creation of 80 new units would help alleviate the demand for housing in the city, the document claims.
However, the project is not without its risks. Assembly member Loren Jones asked if Torrey Pines intended to remain in control of the project well after it was constructed, or if the company had a reputation for completing projects and then selling them to other companies.
Ciambor told Jones that from his conversations with Torrey Pines it seemed they were a “build and hold” company, meaning they preferred to operate the facility well after its construction. A more thorough background check into the company’s history could be done, Ciambor said.
The ordinance providing the $2 million investment will be discussed at the next regular Assembly meeting and its details will be examined at a future Finance Committee meeting.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.