Sunday, June 26, 2016

Anchorage considers permitting mini-houses

Just thought I'd post a link to this article recently published on the ADN regarding the growing popularity of these miniature sized homes, known also as granny flats or in-law homes. Not that this is the sole demographic for which these houses are marketed towards -- can be quite the opposite, actually. With city leaders in Anchorage eager to provide more affordable housing in our already tight market, changes in the municipal code are being considered in order to streamline the permit process for building these little homes. Among the more feasible options in clearing code hurdles is to have a cluster of homes together akin to a trailer park with a separate building in the mini-community that offers guestrooms and a laundromat.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

ANMC expansion takes shape

Sorry for the long delay in posting. Just came back from Japan. Anyways, construction continues on the new towers that will house overnight patients and their families. A skybridge will connect the main hospital to the housing units and adjoining parking garage. Don't know the official completion date, but I'd say it'll probably be ready by this fall.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Loussac Library remodel underway

current view on left, finished product on right
The much detested elevated entrance to the Loussac Library has finally been reduced to rubble. Those who followed closely may know that getting rid of the flawed entrance had long been a priority among the staff at the Loussac, as well as the Muni. Built in 1986 with the rest of the library, the flawed entrance consisted of steps the went up to the second level and led to a little plaza from which you can access the main entrance. Nevermind that it's kind of strange that the main entrance was on the second floor, what really earned it the disapproval of many was the danger it posed in the winter. With the steps constantly getting smothered in ice each winter, the library later added a canopy over the middle section of the stairway. But that too wasn't enough to reduce the hazard of the stairway. From my own personal memory, I recollect an incident several years ago when a youth sliding down the rail injured himself and had to go to the hospital. Replacing the elevated entrance will be a more traditional entry in which people simply cross the road and go to a ground level entrance. A cool looking glass facade for the exterior will greet incoming customers. Meanwhile from what I understand, extensive remodeling will be carried out inside the building as well (it could sure use it).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

In The News...

map courtesy of UAF

Happy new years. Can't believe this blog will be turning 8 years old this year. Anyways, I've been busy, but I did not want to let these stories go by without some coverage as they are pretty interesting, particularly the post-quake data that just came in:

Anchorage Seismic Data Published
So apparently Anchorage had a thorough seismograph network installed about a decade ago that was finally put to use during the recent Iniskin Earthquake, or as I like to call it -- The Saturday Night Shaker. The results that came in have been surprising as they reveal dramatically different results for different parts of the city when it came to the force of the shake. For instance, check out the difference between the seismograph reading in Jewel Lake and the one right below it in Southport. Surprisingly, the Hillside felt it more than Southport. Conventional wisdom has been that Hillside is most immune to quakes. That was one reason why homeowners who owned property in Turnagain Heights (which of course slid into the inlet in 1964) were provided with plots on the Hillside. I was also surprised that Downtown and West Anchorage were not off the rails as they were the biggest disaster areas for the Anchorage Bowl following the '64 quake. Jewel Lake, Airport Heights, Midtown around Dowling and C Street, and parts of Hillside suffered worse than Downtown, which according to the map was placed around West 5th Avenue -- the heart of the townsite.

An Orchard for Government Hill
Residents of Government Hill have recently proposed building an orchard and garden on a 2 acre site that sits vacant between the neighborhood and the neighborhood's commercial strip. The site was once home to the Sourdough Inn, a long abandoned motel that was controversially demolished last year by the DOT to make way for the proposed Knik Arm Crossing. This despite the fact that financial backing for the project has not been secured yet. Some residents claimed this to be the DOT's way of trying to make the project look inevitable and discourage protest. Surprisingly, the DOT is on board with Gov Hill residents on the orchard idea. But of course this sort of land use will be easy to remove should the bridge project actually go forward, as the DOT itself has said it would be placed above the tunnel that they want to build. Whatever the case, hopefully this first of a kind project for Anchorage materializes.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Michael Carey on the bus station

Nothing of actual news here, but I just thought I'd share this commentary made by Michael Carey on his observations regarding the downtown transit center (or "bus station" as he correctly points out is the common name), and the people who use it. It's nice to hear from Carey who until now I did not know was still writing for the ADN following its ownership transition. Now if only he would return to hosting Alaska Edition, I'll be very happy.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Downtown transit center facelift unveiled

How the new transit center may look
Andrew Halcro, head of the authority that runs the People Mover Transit Center in Downtown Anchorage, has recently unveiled renderings by RIM Architects of how a remodeled transit center could look like. If you are familiar with the transit center, then you are probably also aware of the troubles that have swamped the place over the last couple decades. The security statistics presented by Halcro are absolutely staggering. Over 5,000 transients are removed by security officers over the course of a year. More than 500 calls are made to police and fire. But what got me was the turnover rate for security guards at the facility. The longest lasting security guard has been there for six months. And it turns out things have only gotten worse since the Inlet Hotel across the street was demolished a year ago. Trouble that had infected that place has moved across the street to the transit center.

Anyways so the plans for the transit center are pretty interesting. The biggest thing to come out of this, at least to me, is the call for a large retail store to occupy most of the first floor. One name that was thrown around was Walgreens, which is being seen as an ideal store for it can provide groceries and pharmacy items in a part of town that severely lacks it. I wonder though whether downtown can sustain a store like that considering we don't really have condos and apartments in the downtown core. I don't think People Mover riders alone would be able to provide the needed traffic for such a store -- not when ridership is only 2%. A natural result of increasing the footprint of retail is the reduction of the indoor waiting area. In an effort to prevent people from loitering (and they do have their problems with non riders lingering for hours), the indoor space will be greatly reduced with an eye toward getting people onto their next bus. Amusingly, another idea tossed around by the authority was that of having an annoying jingle play in a loop on the intercom. It also appears that the name of the transit center itself may change to "City Center". Halcro and Mayor Berkowitz say no tax dollars will be used and that they hope to break ground in a year.

I know this shouldn't mean anything, but I do like to pick apart little tidbits that concern Anchorage trivia. The Alaska Dispatch quoted Halcro as saying the change expected to take place at the transit center will be the most dramatic transformation of a downtown city block since the construction of the 5th Avenue Mall in 1985. So is this the case? Well, no, it is not. What immediately came to my mind was the construction of the Marriott hotel in 1999. Since the 1980s boom, it is the only highrise to be built in downtown during these last 30 years. I think it's safe to say that block got fairly transformed. Going slightly further back, you may recall the clearing of a block on 4th Avenue in 1994 to make way for the Nesbett Courthouse. And how could we forget the triple threat of 2008 -- the Dena'ina Convention Center, the Linny Pacillo Parking Garage, and the Anchorage Museum extension. We could also say the revival of the McKinley Tower Apartments was a significant change to a city block. Once entirely abandoned, the reopened apartment tower sits next to a social services office on one side and a smaller apartment building for senior housing. But I can see why Andrew Halcro and probably many others would make the mistake of glossing over those other projects. Since the end of the oil boom, development in downtown has come to a virtual standstill. These days we're more used to seeing highrise buildings going up in Midtown. Whether this will change remains to be seen, but it's good to know we have a city administration that cares for this part of town and is working to make it blossom again. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The man who laid down the Anchorage grid

Anchorage townsite, circa 1915
Just thought I'd post this piece written by Charles Wohlforth in which some more details about Andrew Christensen's private life is revealed. Christensen's name has been thrown around quite a bit this year as Anchorage celebrated its 100 year anniversary. For those not familiar, Christensen was a federal official who oversaw the city's founding and was in charge of laying down the street grid for the Anchorage townsite -- today Downtown Anchorage. He also served as the auctioneer as plots on the new townsite went on the market (a reenactment of the auction was held earlier this summer). Of course you may also know him for there is a street that bears his name running from the railroad depot up to 3rd Avenue. But for me at least, what kind of tarnishes him from being a "heroic founding father" of Anchorage was his negative attitude toward the Anchorage area later in his life. While FDR was moving Depression era farmers to the Mat-Su two decades later, Christensen (now back in the States) penned a piece for Time Magazine in which he bitterly referred to the Southcentral region as a wasted and futile effort when it came to economic development and self-sufficiency. His days in Anchorage too were not without controversial moments. He bitterly fought with the Forest Service and plowed forward with the establishment of a red light district within the Chugach National Forest boundaries. He also denied Dena'ina people entry to the townsite, though I suppose this was just seen as business back in 1915 and nothing more.

Something I did not knew until reading this new article was that Christensen lived until 1969, reaching the age of 90. It makes me wonder whether he saw the development taking place in Prudhoe Bay for it was during the late 60s that oil was discovered and the first oil lease auction was held in Anchorage. Did he see what became of the Anchorage townsite? Once a quiet home to cottages and backyards, by the late 60s it became home to new highrises such as the Hill Building (now City Hall), First National Building, Anchorage Westward (now Hilton), and the Captain Cook. All of this development taking place on his grid.

More info on Christensen and the city's founding can be found here.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Former Covenant House location gets redo

at the corner of 6th and F
It's only now that I happen to be in the area of 6th and F, so I just thought I'd snap this photo of the remodeling of the former Covenant House location. The project is being undertaken by Pfeffer Development, the same company that is currently building a lowrise in midtown and recently completed a First National Bank branch in the U-Med district. Occupying the former youth homeless shelter will be a Steam Dot café, a new restaurant called The Williwaw, and a revived Blues Central on the second floor. The only major thing Pfeffer really did to the building was add an elevator shaft to the east of the building. With the elevator, patrons will be able to dine on the roof. For those who are curious, the Covenant House moved out of the building a few years ago and moved to a new larger building in east downtown. The building was originally home to the YMCA as early as the 1950s. And yes, the Williwaw will be owned by the same force that owns Humpy's and Flattop. Not surprising considering its location. That section of downtown is really starting to become something. In related news, it may be safe to say Mark Pfeffer is counting on the building to receive many customers as plans are in the works to build a 16 story mixed-use tower on the 7th Avenue end of F Street. That project too is being developed by Pfeffer Development. But that's another story for later ;)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

ANMC Patient Housing under way

the parking garage is on the right 
Remember back in January when I posted about a new parking garage rising behind the Alaska Native Medical Center? It was quite odd because the garage was sort of isolated from everything else. Usually if there's a garage, there is a skybridge or a building connected to it. Well turns out this particular garage is no exception for it is part of a much grander plan for ANMC. Thanks to a tip from a PR person at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the garage is to be attached to a six story patient housing complex. A skybridge will connect to the main hospital. This isn't too surprising to hear as more than half of the patients coming to ANMC are from outside of Anchorage. There was also mumbling over a year ago about some sort of 'hotel' going up on campus, so this appears to be it. For a patient housing complex, the place is situated in a nice location as that immediate area is kind of low key with little traffic and a forest right behind it. I should know these things, but I wanna say there's also a lake in said forest. Architecturally, the housing complex is marvelous. I think modern "native architecture" has come a long way from the days when the main hospital was built in the late 1990s. To have the main hospital and this new patient housing sit across from each other will make for quite a contrast. And lets give a shoutout to that garage. Lately, garages built in Anchorage have included some sort of facade to cover up the structure itself (see the Pacillo garage downtown, 188 WNL in midtown). But dare I say, this might be the best executed garage wrapping I've seen so far.