City and Borough of Juneau bids on long-empty waterfront lot

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has put the waterfront property known as the subport up for sale. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has put the waterfront property known as the subport up for sale. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

A prime piece of waterfront real estate is up for grabs, and the City and Borough of Juneau is making a play.

The 2.9 acre parcel, known as the subport, is owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. Right now, Tracy’s Crab Shack rents the back of the lot and construction equipment clutters the front of it.

The Trust Land Office announced the sale in May, placing the minimum bid at $3,634,000. Sealed bids will be accepted until Sept. 6, along with a $100,000 deposit.

The city has been encouraging the trust to sell the land for years.

City Manager Rorie Watt said the city will put in a bid and plans to use marine passenger fees to buy the property.

“My expectation is we’re going to get it,” Watt said. “It’s our waterfront, it’s our economy. In a lot of senses, it’s our future.”

It’s not immediately clear what the city will do with the property if it wins the bid.

Watt said it could become a small vessel harbor or a transportation hub for vehicles or water taxis. The city’s fifteen-year-old Long Range Waterfront Plan details some of those plans.

But there are also opportunities for the city to partner with private developers.

Plans to build an ocean center and a yacht marina on the property fizzled out after the trust failed to respond to an offer from local developer Doug Trucano and the non-profit Alaska Ocean Center. They partnered on the proposal and made an above-market offer on the property in 2016.

Bob Janes is on the board for the Ocean Center. He said they realized about a year ago that their offer wasn’t going anywhere.

“To put it bluntly, we’re in the hands of the city now,” Janes said. “If the city does get the property, then the city’s going to be approaching different developers, and I know they’ll approach the Ocean Center and we may become part of that development through the city.”

The trust manages about one million acres of land across the state. It uses the money earned through land sales and other investments to fund services like mental health programs and alcohol and drug abuse treatment.

Bids will be opened at the Trust Land Office in Anchorage on Sept. 9.

If the top two bidders are within 5% of each other, an outcry auction will be held.

If the city’s bid is successful, the Juneau Assembly will have to move quickly to approve the purchase and allocate funds.

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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