Gunakedeit Park, colloquially known as Pocket Park, downtown has been serving temporary roles for years.
When there’s downtown construction (as there is right now), the small plot of land across from the downtown clock serves as a storage area for vehicles and equipment. Some weekend nights, a hot dog cart sets up in front of the park. It’s also been serving as a place for transient people to hang out.
The park “has never been well used or appreciated by the public,” City Manager Rorie Watt said in an interview Tuesday. The city bought the plot of land from the owners of the Gastineau Apartments in the 1980s, Watt said, and tried to make it into a downtown park. The park wasn’t well used, he said, and became more of a hangout place for chronic inebriates than a spot for families to stroll. When the city tore down the Gastineau Apartments in 2015 after the building had caught fire twice, city officials also decided to tear down the park.
Now, the park sits squarely in the middle of downtown and could factor into the area’s long-term future, City and Borough of Juneau Lands Manager Greg Chaney said.
“The future of the park is going to be an interesting opportunity,” Chaney said. “If it’s managed differently, perhaps it could be more of a public space.”
At Monday’s Assembly Lands Committee meeting, members of the Assembly considered one proposal for what to do with the land — make it into an outdoor food court featuring food trucks, similar to the setup near the downtown library in the summer.
David McCasland, the owner of Deckhand Dave’s food cart, offered to buy the entire property including the Gastineau Apartments land. His vision, he explained to the Empire via text message Tuesday, is to have the property full of food carts during the summer and an event space during the offseason.
One of the main reasons for doing this, McCasland said, is to provide a space for food carts to go if they no longer have a place when the property next to the library (known as the Archipelago Lot) is redone. Morris Communications (the former owner of the Empire) owns the majority of the property. CBJ’s Docks and Harbors Department has developed a plan for the property that includes space for food carts, an expansion of the USS Juneau Memorial, multiple retail spaces and more.
McCasland said construction on that property will prevent many food carts from operating there during construction, though he’s not sure how things will shake out in the long term. McCasland wrote in a July email to Deputy Lands and Resources Manager Dan Bleidorn that a place for food trucks is “seriously needed” with trucks being displaced by construction at the Archipelago Lot.
“Juneau will love this project,” McCasland wrote. “Even though the city will lose this small place it will still be a community place, more or less a park with a courtyard, shared eating area and various options of food.”
A memo from Chaney recommended that the city not sell the property at the moment, though, because of the long-term planning projects currently going on. As the Parks and Recreation Department works on a long-term plan and the Community Development Department works on the Blueprint Downtown long-term plan, the park fits into both of those. The Parks and Recreation Department currently manages the park.
Members of the public have a chance to share their ideas and feedback about the future of downtown at a Blueprint Downtown meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30 at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.
He suggested that the city could lease the property to McCasland, and the Lands Committee members agreed that they should hold off and possibly consider leasing the property to McCasland until a long-term plan is set.
Though he wants to hear more from the public before any decisions are made, Watt said he would like to see the property used for housing.
“In my opinion, downtown would be helped if there was more housing,” Watt said, “more people, more economic activity. When the Gastineau Apartments were torn down, we lost a lot of units of housing in the community.”
Housing has been a front-burner issue for Juneau for years, especially as the cost of living rises. Numbers released by the Council for Community and Economic Research this summer showed that the cost of living in Juneau is higher than Anchorage or Fairbanks.
A package deal
Watt said the hope at the moment is to partner with Gastineau Apartments, LLC — which still owns the spot of the former apartments — to sell the two properties together to a developer who can make that property valuable for Juneau residents. It’s a bit of an awkward situation, because the city just settled a lawsuit with Kathleen Barrett (the owner of Gastineau Apartments, LLC) for $1.5 million.
Barrett is working through Dave d’Amato, who makes legal decisions for her, to sell the property, Watt said. Much of d’Amato’s time right now is taken up by repairing the Bergmann Hotel and the 401 Harris Street property that Barrett owns and that were recently vacated. Both properties had drawn considerable police attention due to parking violations and suspected drug activity in recent years.
Watt said he and d’Amato have been in talks about ways forward, but Watt said he’d like to hear more from the public about what they would like to see on that land.
McCasland said Tuesday that he’s hopeful that the city will lease the property to him, but he said his vision is to use the entire space, so Barrett and d’Amato would also have to agree.
According to the CBJ Engineering Department, Gunakadeit is a sea animal in Tlingit lore, believed to bring good fortune and prosperity.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.