The former parent company of the Juneau Empire is pressing ahead with plans for a 13,000 square-foot retail development on one of the last open lots along Juneau’s downtown waterfront.
The project, eyed for the gravel lot next to the Juneau Public Library, could be complete as soon as 2020, said Allen Grinalds, director of real estate for Morris Communications.
“This is an aggressive timeline,” Grinalds told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at its regular weekly luncheon.
Grinalds was the week’s invited guest and provided a status report on the development, which has been under serious consideration for more than a year. The space has been on and off the market for more than a decade without any takers, Grinalds said. With no success in that department, his company has decided to develop it into a “first-class retail development.”
Plans for the site include a handful of two-story buildings set back from Franklin Street and separated by pedestrian walkways diagonal to the north-south flow of South Franklin. Designs for the buildings are in flux, Grinalds said, but the general idea is to incorporate the architectural look and feel of Juneau.
“When you get there, it should feel like Juneau. It shouldn’t feel like something plucked out of another geographic area and laid in here,” he said.
While the first-floor spaces are intended for retail, “that second floor, it could be office space, it could be apartments, it could be lofts, it could be storage for retailers,” he said.
The project requires the cooperation of the City and Borough of Juneau, whose ports and harbors department controls a portion of the site. Plans call for decking to cover the gaps between the seawalk and the shoreline, with buildings and parking atop both the decking and what Grinalds called the “uplands.”
He said the “public portion” of the project will cost about $15 million, and did not give an estimate for what Morris Communications expects to spend.
Grinalds was optimistic about the possibilities for the site, saying “the local economy is stable,” the number of cruise ship passengers is on the rise, and “vacancy rates downtown are at a very, very healthy level.”
“All the numbers point to a great time to do it,” he said.
The timeline for the project calls for permitting to take place by the end of the year, with groundbreaking work on the decking possible this year as well. Decking construction and the first steps toward building construction are expected in 2019, with the buildings complete by 2020.
Grinalds said after his presentation that financing is not an issue. “Capital’s there, desire is there, will is there,” he said.
Members of the Chamber of Commerce were curious about what businesses Morris expects to fill the new retail space. Liz Perry, President/CEO of Travel Juneau, asked whether he expects the businesses in those spaces to be open year-round. Architectural renderings show some businesses labeled “shirts.”
“I would love to see retailers that are going to be open year-round,” he said, but acknowledged that “the lion’s share of the revenue that’s produced in the retail market here” comes during the summer.
Several business owners asked what parking will be included with the project.
“There is absolutely no parking programmed,” Grinalds said.
The cost of the lot, he said, is so high that parking becomes prohibitively expensive.
“You can’t have enough retail where you could pay for the project” if parking is included, he said.
Another attendee asked what will happen to the existing food trucks on the site. Grinalds said they will be interspersed throughout the development, in order to encourage pedestrian traffic through the area.
Grinalds said his company’s goal is to create a long-term investment for Morris, a family-owned company headquartered in Augusta, Georgia.
“This is a property we would envision holding on a generational level,” he said.
Morris Communications also owns the Alaska Electric Light and Power building (home to Foggy Mountain Shop and Amalga Distillery), the vacant lot on 2nd Street next to Rainforest Farms, and 3100 Channel Drive, which contains the offices of the Empire and SEARHC, among other companies. The Empire pays market rates for rent.
Grinalds said after his presentation that no changes are planned to the AEL&P building or the gravel lot, but the Channel Drive building, erected in the mid-1980s, will soon receive a multimillion-dollar renovation.