Mental health trust will finally sell its downtown Juneau subport lot

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 2.9-acre parcel owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust. (Courtesy of MRV Architects)

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has finally decided it’s time to sell a prominent waterfront lot it owns in downtown Juneau.

The trust was influenced by a report it commissioned from the Urban Land Institute for $50,000. The Seattle-based nonprofit’s report concluded that selling the 2.9-acre subport lot is a financially safer bet than leasing and managing the land long-term.

“We know we have increased interest,” said Wyn Menefee, executive director of the Trust Land Office. “In the trust’s interest, we’re supposed to maximize the revenue so that it benefits the beneficiaries. We see that we think we have a competitive interest here, and so we are going out for a competitive sale.”

In recent years, several parties have pitched purchase, lease and development plans for the site. Some locals wanted to build an ocean science attraction there. The state wanted to lease it for employee parking. Juneau city planners wanted to reserve part of it for a pedestrian seawalk connection between Overstreet Park and the main cruise ship docks. Two summers ago, homeless people camped there.

The lot has been mostly vacant since 2007, when a state building for storing surplus was torn down.

Menefee said marketing will begin this winter leading up to an auction and, if things go to plan, a new owner will be named this summer. The land institute estimates its value at $3 million.

That’s a relief for City Manager Rorie Watt. He said he wishes the trust had sold the property a decade ago, invested, and passed earnings onto mental health trust beneficiaries.

“And we’ve been trying to nudge, poke, prod, cajole, shove (the trust) into action on this parcel,” Watt said. “And it took them a long time to reach the conclusion that sale was the right way forward.”

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority is mandated to manage about 1 million acres of state land and a portfolio worth about $560 million to benefit Alaskans’ mental health needs. Its earnings turn into tens of millions of dollars in annual grants for programs like alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment, supportive housing and health care training.

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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