Juneau waterfront developer pitches city land swap

A conceptual plan released by Juneau’s Docks and Harbors in November 2017 shows new businesses off South Franklin Street. (Image courtesy of City and Borough of Juneau)

The former owners of the Juneau Empire newspaper are negotiating a land swap with the City and Borough of Juneau for a downtown waterfront development.

Morris Communications still owns real estate in Juneau, including vacant waterfront property on South Franklin Street. The lots host seasonal vendors and food carts.

Allen Grinalds is the Augusta, Georgia-based company’s director of real estate. He described plans to create a high-density complex of more than 12,000-square-feet of shops and restaurants it wants in place by 2020.

“Walking along South Franklin Street right now, you’ve got very large two-story buildings that are very close to the sidewalk,” Grinalds said Friday. “What we want to do is almost create a village concept.”

Plans by Juneau’s Docks and Harbors for redevelopment of the waterfront from Marine Park to Taku Smokeries are already underway. The Morris family-owned lots are the only vacant parcel in the redevelopment plan for the heart of the busy cruise ship docks.

City Manager Rorie Watt said there’s projected to be well over a million cruise ship passengers visiting Juneau this year.

“That’s a lot of people for a small town,” Watt said. “From last year to this year, looks to be about 250,000 more passengers which is a 25 percent increase, which is really a big deal.”

A conceptual redevelopment plan released by Juneau’s Docks and Harbors in November 2017 covers the waterfront between Marine Park and Taku Smokeries. (Image courtesy of City and Borough of Juneau)

He said that’s where the proposed redevelopment could help. Docks and Harbors has a conceptual plan to swap city-owned land with the Morris family for a new staging area for shuttles and tour buses. In return, the Morris family would consolidate its holdings for its development.

The deal could cost the city $2.1 million in land alone. Watt said the wisdom of the arrangement will be up to elected officials.

“In terms of land, we would basically buy, sell, trade land and the values just need to be fair-market values, whatever that is,” Watt said. “If there’s money on our side of the ledger, then the Assembly has to decide if it’s worth doing.”

Grinalds said the company is meeting with prospective business owners now. Whether the tenants would be year-round or seasonal like much of South Franklin Street, remains an open question.

“The decision hasn’t been made yet and the market’s going to tell us,” Grinalds said. “Our desire would be to have year-round tenants.”

The Docks and Harbors board will discuss the waterfront development plan and the proposed land swap when it meets June 28. From there it would be forwarded to the Assembly.

Morris Communications had owned Juneau’s daily newspaper since 1967. But the family-owned company exited the news business after it sold the Empire and a dozen other papers last fall.

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