Broken partnership puts Juneau senior housing project in limbo

A partnership that was going to bring 41 units of low-income senior housing to Juneau has ended, leaving a Seattle-based developer with $9 million in funding and no land to build on.

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Dan Austin, general manager of St. Vincent de Paul Society in Juneau, called the housing project the Home Run. When the nonprofit and its partner GMD Development were awarded the financing in December, Austin had been working on the project for 10 years.

The plan was to break ground this summer.

“We put in a lot of time, effort, money, blood, sweat, tears into this project and it’s very disappointing, very disappointing,” Austin said.

Both entities say it was the other that withdrew from the partnership.

Juneau’s St. Vincent de Paul Society and Seattle-based GMD Development were supposed to break ground on low-income senior housing on this land near the airport. With the partnership over, the land remains untouched. (Photo courtesy St. Vincent de Paul Society)
Juneau’s St. Vincent de Paul Society and Seattle-based GMD Development were supposed to break ground on low-income senior housing on this land near the airport. With the partnership over, the land remains untouched. (Photo courtesy St. Vincent de Paul Society)

Austin said St. Vincent de Paul and GMD Development weren’t able to agree on things like the administration of the project and the role of the housing’s thrift store.

“It’s mainly differences in management philosophy and mission between the two organizations. One is not necessarily better than the other, but we got to a point where it appeared that they were incompatible,” Austin said.

The proposed project targeting low to moderate income seniors was to be a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units with a thrift store on the ground floor. The plan was to build it on a lot adjacent to the nonprofit’s current property near the airport.

Alaska Housing Finance Corporation awarded the $9 million in financing to the project. With the broken partnership, director of planning and program development Mark Romick said the award contractually stays with GMD Development.

The Seattle-based company has until Dec. 31 to find another partner for the proposed Juneau housing.

“The project has to be exactly the same as it was proposed — same units, same energy efficiency, techniques, same design, same everything,” Romick said.

Romick hopes the proposed project can still happen.

“We want to see the units developed in Juneau and we’re hoping that this whole thing can work itself out,” Romick said.

If GMD Development doesn’t use the financing, AHFC gets it back. Romick says there’s a possibility it could be restricted to a Juneau project.

GMD may still have the financing, but it doesn’t have the land. That belongs to St. Vincent de Paul.

Project manager Emily Breidenbach said GMD is looking for new development sites and a new nonprofit partner. It’s been in discussions with a few agencies in Juneau, including Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority, but doesn’t have anything concrete.

“Certainly because these are going to be seniors, we are looking for a site that’s well connected that has access to buses and sidewalks so that seniors can get out and be connected to the community,” Breidenbach said.

GMD and St. Vincent de Paul are still partners on a current renovation to Channel Terrace apartments in Douglas, and have funding applications in for other projects.

As GMD looks for another partner and land to build on, St. Vincent de Paul continues to pursue developing its land for low-income senior housing. Austin says he’s meeting with a potential partner in a few weeks.