Mental Health Trust bides its time on sale of Juneau waterfront parcel

(Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska's Energy Desk)
Waterfront land owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority seen here Nov. 8 would be key to Trucano Construction’s plans for a new yacht marina and berth. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

A prominent Juneau builder has doubled down on his offer to buy a vacant waterfront parcel owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust.

The property would be used for the proposed Alaska Ocean Center and a new marina near downtown.

The Trust Authority advertised two Juneau waterfront parcels for sale late last year: one of those was sold this summer, and the other sits vacant and had hosted an encampment of homeless residents.

Trucano Construction had offered $3.24 million for the second lot. Trucano president Doug Trucano said the land would be part of a larger plan to build a yacht marina and berth for small cruise ships.

He said the Trust Land Office cashed his $500 check for the application fee in December.

“They’ve never responded,” Trucano told KTOO. “We have gone here and there to find out what is going on. We talked to members of the board and nobody really seems to give any inclination as to what they’re doing.”

Trucano’s offer wasn’t the only one.

The Alaska Ocean Center, a proposed North Pacific-themed science complex, also put in a bid for the 2.8-acre property. Its $500 check also was cashed but the board says it never heard back.

Trucano submitted a revised offer this week that includes the backing of the Alaska Ocean Center, to which he’d lease land.

The ocean center’s board elected to join forces with Trucano this summer and support his bid.

The ocean center’s plans are in a holding pattern until the sale goes through.

“We are waiting for the closing on the land so that we can begin our national fundraising campaign,” said Bob Janes, who sits on the ocean center’s board.

Trucano also is offering to pay 5 percent of his offer – $162,000 – into an escrow account.

“They’ve got money in their hand, they cashed both of our $500 checks eight months ago,” Janes said of the Trust. “But I think they’d be a little bit more leery of cashing a $160,000 check without a dialogue coming up in terms of that offer.”

The Juneau Assembly passed a resolution in late June supporting the deal.

The property off Egan Drive was host to a conspicuous homeless encampment this summer.

In late August, the Trust Land Office filed a trespassing complaint and Juneau police evicted the people living in tents.

Contract crews razed the vegetation to deter people from moving back and there hasn’t been any visible activity since.

Conceptual plans for a future “Juneau Marina District” would include a yacht marina, berth for small cruise ships and the Alaska Ocean Center on land that includes a 2.8-acre parcel owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust. (Courtesy of MRV Architects)

City Manager Rorie Watt sent a letter dated Sept. 1 that urged the Trust Authority to accept the above-market offer it’s had in hand since late last year.

“From the city’s standpoint we’re interested, and we have been interested for many years, in developing all of the waterfront,” Watt said. “It appears to me that the best way to move forward with that piece of property is to get it transferred into private ownership.”

To date there’s been no Trust response to the city, either.

Trucano said he doesn’t understand why he can’t get an answer.

“If they get an offer, they should either say, ‘Yes we’ll sell it to you’ or ‘No we won’t,’ and then you can move on,” Trucano said.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority’s leadership has been in flux.

Its top three officers resigned this fall while the authority undergoes a Legislative Audit into its investments and asset management.

The Trust Land Office’s Wyn Menefee has been pulling double duty as both executive and deputy director since his predecessor resigned in September.

He said prospective buyers have been kept in the loop.

“We’ve informed the different offerers and such that we are further examining to see which way we’re going to go on this parcel to make sure that it’s in the best interests of the trust and hopefully it’ll also be a good outcome for the community,” Menefee said Thursday. “But it’s likely that as we do that that it will be several months until we actually finalize this.”

It’ll ultimately be up to the Trust’s new CEO and board of directors to decide what it will do with this piece of Juneau’s waterfront property, he said.

Editor’s note: KTOO’s building sits on land leased from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. KTOO has also applied for and received occasional grants for special reporting projects from the authority.

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