Outlook for builders: Busy

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2002

It may be early in the construction season, but it looks like Juneau is poised for a serious growth spurt.

"The outlook is very positive," said Phil Benson, president of the Home Builders Association of Juneau.

"It seems like plenty of permits will be pulled and just from talking to our building members, it looks like people are going to stay busy. Some contractors are even just about booked up with work for the year," he said.

With 209 permits now under review by the city, the 2002 construction season is much stronger than last year, said city building official Chris Roust.

"We are doing significantly more in new residential and new commercial buildings," said Roust. "Right now, we have 40 new residential and 47 new commercial permits, and last year we were looking at 30 and 10 for the entire year."

According to Roust's data, the city issued 180 permits last year for new structures and additions or remodeling work on residential and commercial buildings. The number of permits for 2002 already exceeds that figure, and optimism is high among Juneau's contractors.

"We were concerned that it would be a slow year because of the capital move possibility, but it turns out that business is up by around 50 percent," said Rich Peterson of Lowpete Construction, a company that builds new homes.

"We've been around for 21 years and this is our best year yet," Peterson said. "Usually at this time of year, we've sold two to three homes, and we've sold 15 already.

"It could be the beginning of a trend, but it may just be a short-term spike for us due to customer satisfaction and strong word of mouth," added Peterson.

To home builders association president Phil Benson, who also owns and operates Polysteel of Alaska, the increase in business rests on consumer confidence.

"I've talked to our associate members in the real estate and banking community, and business is swift with refinancing and new home starts," said Benson, whose company specializes in building insulated concrete homes.

"Consumer confidence is up and people who decided not to do something last year are doing it this year. My business has definitely improved from last year."

At the Don Abel Building Supplies industrial sales desk, manager Jerry Crosley predicted a good summer for contractors, as well.

"The feeling around here is that it is definitely busier than last year," said Crosley, who provides building supplies to local contractors. "The low-interest money has probably helped, and there's also a lot of remodeling activity. Instead of buying new, people seem to be interested in investing in their homes.

"The majority of the Valley - where most of the Juneau population lives - was built in the '70s and those homes are more than 30 years old," he added. "People are now making some serious investments into their existing homes with remodeling projects and additions."

The number of permits for commercial buildings and renovations in Juneau also indicates a good year for local contractors.

"When you consider the dollar value, there's more work available than last year," said Jim Triplette of Triplette Construction. "From our perspective, there's a lot of government work out to bid, but the private (commercial) work has dried up.

"Even though there doesn't seem to be a lot of concern about the possible legislative move among the public, there isn't an office building to bid on, but there's a few large government projects happening all at the same time," he said.

He was referring to the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School, the construction of a federal fisheries research center at Lena Point, and ongoing work at Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Despite indicators that the private commercial sector may be down, Triplette anticipates a busy year.

"If you're going to make predictions, I guess it has a lot to do if you have work at the time," Triplette said, with a laugh. "But, overall, it looks like it's going to be a better year for the industry than last year."

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