A look back as Juneau Assembly considers Gastineau reboot

Will Muldoon lost almost everything in the fire. He escaped with just his dog and a pair of EXTRATUFS. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)
Will Muldoon lost almost everything in the fire. He escaped with just his dog and a pair of EXTRATUFS. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

The burned out Gastineau Apartments are supposed to be demolished in April, but a last-minute deal could restore the downtown dwelling. Three years after the fire, the owner has a purchase agreement with a Seattle developer. It’s on Monday’s Assembly agenda.

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Will Muldoon lived at the Gastineau Apartments for about five years. He says the street was always bustling with activity: bars letting out after last call, the occasional smell of acetone from the nail salon below.

And he says sure, sometimes it could be uncomfortable.

“Part of living downtown is one time, I stepped out the shower and my neighbor saw me so I had to go over and say ‘I’m sorry’ to them. But it’s part of the fun of living downtown in such close quarters,” Muldoon said.

That neighbor was working at the doll museum across the street. Still, he says he loved living in Gastineau in a small one bedroom.

Muldoon paid around $950 a month for rent. He worked two jobs. The location gave him the flexibility to walk to work in the day, then come home and do information technology work at night.

“It was kinda neat,” Muldoon said. “My life was pretty localized and I liked it that way.”

Then three years ago this month, his life changed. Clanging fire alarms woke him up, but he rolled back over and went to sleep.

Capital City Fire and Rescue spent the night of Nov. 5 fighting a blaze at the Gastineau Apartments in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO) Firefighters battle blaze downtown
Capital City Fire and Rescue spent the night of Nov. 5 fighting a blaze at the Gastineau Apartments in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO) Firefighters battle blaze downtown

“The way Beck was knocking, Officer Beck was knocking, I could tell it wasn’t just like a ‘hey, let’s chat kinda thing.’ It wasn’t no ‘hello, I’m trying to sell something.’ Or anything like that,” he said.

Muldoon escaped with a pair of XTRATUFS and his dog. Even the clothes on his back had to be thrown away from smoke damage. But all of the other tenants, minus one pet cat, made it out.

Gastineau’s owner, James Barrett, repeatedly missed city deadlines for repairs or demolition. And the building caught fire again. It’s been a huge eyesore, even declared a safety concern. So the city put together a bid package for Gastineau to be torn down.

The contract was supposed to be finalized with CBC Construction at the end of last month.

“Well, the Barrett family has now relinquished control of the property to us,” said Jim Hurley, a Seattle-based consultant.

The city is holding the notice to proceed for the demolition.

Private Public Partnership LLC and a local company, Coogan Alaska Construction, want to renovate the apartments. Not tear them down. The group has entered into a purchasing agreement with the Barretts. But haven’t bought the building yet. The Barretts couldn’t be reached for comment.

“We have a plan that could involve a construction cycle that could be completed in 18 months. If we had cooperation with the city,” Hurley said.

The Assembly would first have to cancel the bid it awarded to CBC Construction.

Hurley says it’s still in the development stage, but there are tentative plans to turn the apartments back into market-rate or subsidized housing. Of course, this would take longer than just tearing it down.

“Here’s the thing, I don’t know much about the history in terms of the politics of it,” Hurley said. “What I do know is there’s not much risk for the taxpayers to listen to what we have to say.”

A Seattle developer is considering renovating the historic building and turning it into housing. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)
A Seattle developer is considering renovating the historic building and turning it into housing. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

But he says there are risks with the demolition. The city hoped to recoup over a million dollars from the Barretts; after demolition, Hurley estimates the land is only worth about $200,000.

“We’re fresh now and can bring our vision of an alternate plan to the city. And they can have an apples-and-oranges plan to what’s on the table,” Hurley said.

For Muldoon, the fire that destroyed his apartment seems like a lifetime ago.

“My life has changed. Now I live out in the valley, I have a state job and help raising kids and all these things,” Muldoon said.

He lost most of his possessions but says he was able to bounce-back with the help of his family and community.

Seeing the twinkle in his eye when he talks about living downtown, I have to ask if he would move back into the Gastineau Apartments if it was renovated.

“I would, I would,” he said enthusiastically. “I’ve got a really nice setup in the valley right now. But it would be hard not to. I had a lot of fun living there. It had a 100-year-old history. So I’m kinda excited to see if they can do the restoration, what Gastineau 2.0 will mean.”

The assembly will be discussing that possibility with the developers.

Full disclosure, Will Muldoon is a member of KTOO’s Board of Directors.