Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Alaska Then And Now

If you've looked around Barnes & Noble or other book stores these last few years, you've probably seen this awesome collection of books known as "Then And Now". Seattle, Portland, St. Louis, New York, etc, etc have all had their own Then And Now books made, and now Alaska's number has apparently been called. If anything, I'm probably just showing my lack of awareness, because this new book from Thunder Bay Press was released way back in April of this year. My bad. I did however find it in time so as to make it a Christmas gift for the parents. For those not in the know, the Then And Now series puts a side by side comparison of urban streetscapes from past and present together for whichever city the book is on. While previous editions of the series focus on one city only, the Alaska edition looks at our big three (Juneau, ANC, Fairbanks). Images from the Anchorage portion of the book include a then and now look at the present sites of the PAC, Egan Center, Hotel Anchorage, 4th Avenue Theater, Kimball Building, and even the White Spot Cafe among others. While the book is definitely a keeper, there are a couple clumsy factual errors made by the authors when writing captions for the images that make you think twice before realizing that the error is on their part and not some sort of new revelation on Anchorage history. Nothing major though.

Anyways all this before and after talk reminds me of a couple years ago when I scanned an old postcard I had of Anchorage circa late 1970s and matched it with a shot I took in 2005 from the same location (that being Gov. Hill, of course):

(click to view larger)

Obvious difference: A/C Couplet added not too long after the first photo was taken linking Downtown with the port and Government Hill. Also note the expansion to the Hilton (then Westward Hotel) which blocks off the view we formally had of the Key Bank, Westmark Hotel (formally Sheffeild Inn) and First National Building as well as the top of the 4th Avenue Theater sign. The Marriott Anchorage however looms behind as a new architecturally welcomed addition in the 2005 photo.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spenard transformation controversy continues

I know it may start to become repetitive to our local readers whenever I post an article from the ADN that many of you may have already read earlier in the day, but I like to keep this blog as sort of a record/archive on all things urban related that even I myself can refer to when needed. Besides that, most of our readers actually come from outside. Ex-Anchoragites? Probably. Regardless, the holidays have been keeping me busy, but no I did not miss the extensive Sunday article 2 weeks ago on the long continuing controversy surrounding the transformation of a stretch of Spenard Road. Nothing really new in the article other than some new specifics on what will happen to an arterial road as well as the T-intersection of Fireweed and Spenard. Read the article and graphs here.

As for the Joop editorial, well I'm optimistic that the city learned from the nightmare that was the Arctic project. As a resident of West Anchorage and growing up attending West High, I can tell you that the span of Spenard from Fireweed all the way to Minnesota is indeed a disaster. Many seem to have a hard time believing that a two or three lane Spenard will be good for business, but look at the stretch of Spenard from Northwood to Airport Road in which Spenard goes from four lanes to two. Harley Davidson, Puffin Inn, and Gwennies(sp) Restaurant appear to be doing fine these last 20 years or so since the improvement while numerous new businesses such as hotels, dine-in restaurants, and a couple of coffeeshop trailers have sprung up in that stretch of Spenard over the last 10 years. Unlike lower Spenard however, the area of Spenard currently in question has something going for it that no other part of town has. Call it "hipster paradise" or whatever you want, but there's no question that Spenard has become what the city has long wanted Mountain View to become -- a bohemian district. From the numerous cafes, to the bicycle shops, to the ultra popular (and crowded) Bears Tooth Theater, Upper Spenard is culturally blossoming. What's hindering this new identity however is the 1960s era planning philosophy that puts cars and concrete as priority #1. Bicycle lanes, less surface parking, and mix-use buildings are some of the many solutions that will not get in the way of this new community as demonstrated in cities like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver BC, and other places that are taking smart growth seriously. Check out the visions had for Mountain View within the next 20 years as posted by Clark at his blog. Like 4th Avenue, Spenard and Mountain View can have their own hotdog vendors on the streets along with musical acts playing in a park. Lets not forget that west 4th Avenue itself was at one time a four lane road.

Bottom Line: Enough with the complacency. The Muni needs to reach out and be proactive in building its case for this great road improvement.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Anchorage in pictures

Just thought I'd post some street scenes and architecture taken recently during the bitterly cold clear days we've been having.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anchorage Park Foundation Report Card

The Anchorage Park Foundation just recently finished adding up the critiques made by residents during the fall and have released its first ever Anchorage Parks Report Card with the final grades for each of the city's 54 parks. The final grades? Well it appears Little Billy will have to pay more attention at school. I didn't do an exact count, but it appears C's rule the map while F's and D's can also be found aplenty. Cheney Lake Park in East Anchorage along with David Green Memorial on 36th Avenue were the two parks that received A's. Hilariously enough, Minnesota Park (along Minnesota Drive) received an F. Can't say I'm surprised considering the trouble between the areas residents and its young rabble rouser's as covered by the ADN earlier this year or so. Anyways the Parks Foundation has the whole report card on its website along with a directory to help you find out which parks are in your neck of the woods.

Anchorage Park Foundation Report Card

Saturday, December 13, 2008

joop in the dust

For my regular readers who expect that usual update or two a week, my apologies for the neglect. As a student in UAA, combined with the holiday season, this time of the year can be pretty tough. My days lately have consisted of heading to school at 8am, leaving school at 7pm, and working at the job till midnight. As a result, I may have missed some important news concerning the Anchorage cityscape as I have had hardly any time to pick up the papers or watch KTUU and other sources. Thankfully school is finished, so I may have a bit more time to catch up on the latest.

On a related note, as someone who works the night shift, the new JL Tower in Midtown has been really strutting its LED's in recent time and has made my work near the building each night more interesting as a new light show on the tower seems to take place every night. I was wondering how long it would take, but finally a nearby resident in the area took out the camcorder and started putting some of the tower's light shows on YouTube. The producer of these light shows can also be found responding to some of the videos and is a cool guy who will answer your questions. In the meantime, enjoy this rare show:

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mountain View on the rise

The Alaska Journal of Commerce published a great article this week on the continued revitalization of Mountain View. I don't know if I'd say Mountain View is destined to become the next SoHo as the article seems to imply, but seeing the effort coming from a barrage of local big muscle including the Rasmuson Foundation, JL Properties, Chevron, RIM Architects, etc (along with of course the Muni) does certainly paint a hopeful picture for this true Alaskan neighborhood. New buildings are also discussed in the article including the new Credit Union 1 which broke ground last month along with what looks to be a proposed two story building dedicated to artists or some sort.

While you're at it, here's a great blog dedicated to Mountain View by long time community organizer Clark Yerrington.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vintage Anchorage

So I was looking through my way-too-large stash of Anchorage photos when I found this one collecting dust in one of my millions of sub-folders. I don't know the exact year, but I'd place my bet at circa 1960. Obviously you can't miss the McKinley Apartment tower on the left next to the old native hospital. But what gives me a hunch that this was just taken around the early 60s is that the bright yellow Hill Building (now City Hall) is standing proudly in the center of Downtown. The building was completed in... I'm wanting to say 1959. Also noticeable is the Turnagain Arms Apartments (in red) right above the then low density Bootleggers Cove near the Inlet. By the way, check out the smooth grade of 5th Avenue as it goes down into Bootleggers Cove. For those who have driven up 5th from Bootleggers, you could clearly see the difference in steepness. I'd assume the '64 quake, which hit that end of Downtown pretty hard, was probably responsible for reshaping the steepness of that bluff. Have any corrections, more facts, observations, or comments? Feel free to respond. Oh, and of course, click the picture for a much larger version.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hillside may get some... planning!

Not really an interesting article, but the headline "As Anchorage expands, planners chart Hillside's future" is quite the attention grabber especially for some of our friends up in that neighborhood who may or may not be stocking up on weapons for the prophesied coming of the city planners! The article, published in Sunday's ADN, mentions how the city is looking to treat some of the problems to be had in the Hillside such as water runoff, city services, and commercial development. Again, if you need reading material to put you to sleep, this article is for you. If unlike me you are interested, there will be some public meetings regarding a plan for the Hillside to deal with such hard hitting issues facing the neighborhood. And yes, there's a website for the plan as well:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New bicycle racks for Downtown

With bicycle ridership increasing up to 30% in the last year, the Muni invested $17,000 into 13 new bike racks for the Downtown area using state grants. Now if you attended the city's little civic block party earlier this summer, you may have noticed a booth in which a map of Downtown Anchorage was laid out in front with visitors being asked to pin down locations they'd like to see bike racks and even bicycle lockers. I can't confirm that this is the result from that survey earlier this year, but with new bike racks installed in popular locations such as G Street, 5th and D, and of course our beloved Snow City Cafe, it sure looks like the results have been delivered. The ADN is reporting that bicycle lockers are expected to later show up on the parking lot behind the Sunshine Plaza.

With this news, I decided to bravely trudge out into the subzero cold and check out the new racks for myself. The results: not what I expected. It appears that at least two different versions of the racks have been installed. One rack looks more traditional with its "curved sink pipe", while the other sits between parking meters with space for two locks. I guess the artistic street furniture now found on F Street and around the new convention center raised my expectations for more artistic and unique designs, but then again this is a limited budget from a state grant. Not that I'm complaining or anything -- I'm very satisfied! Below are my sightings of these new species in their habitat:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Among election winners: mass transit

Besides Democrats making major gains in the election earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal is reporting mass transit also became a big hit for voters. No, this has nothing to do with Joe Biden taking Amtrak on a daily basis, rather mass transit initiatives around the country saw approval from voters that were twice the amount that usually pass in previous elections. Surprising considering the funding required for such projects especially in todays economic times (then again I suppose gas prices were on voters minds...). Click below for the article:

Mass-Transit Projects Fared Well at Polls (WSJ)

Friday, November 14, 2008

E Street project goes into deep freeze

The Muni, through its website Destination Downtown, is reporting that the E Street Corridor Project is on hold. Thankfully, unlike the recent halting of projects around the country such as a major skyscraper project in Chicago (or for a more local level, the cancellation of Costco in Wasilla), the E Street project is NOT being canceled due to the economy or poor planning. As any Alaskan would know, "it's the snow, stupid". Construction shall resume in the Spring. Meanwhile here's some pics I took on how the project is shaping up so far with three personal observations that pop out to me:

First off, it appears the corridor will be losing the specially designed green light poles. The unique poles looked awesome when I was a young child, but just the other day I was thinking about how they have aged with their 80s look and that they should be replaced with traditional poles to integrate Downtown with the rest of the city. Next thing I know, I drive by 5th and E a few days later and see what appears to be the installation of new poles (stumps for now).

Perspective really helps in understanding just what is going down and I can't think of anything better to prove that than this shot of the new street curb placed further away from its original location. It looks like the new sidewalk will take up what was formally metered parking along with the right lane of old E Street.

Last, the intersection of 6th and E looks to be complete. Unlike the blueprints however, I don't see the darker colored bricks that were to be placed so as to appear pointing towards Town Square. Another thing worthy of mentioning is that the crosswalks are not just painted onto the bricks. They're actual slabs of concrete which I suppose makes sense considering the uneven brick surface that the intersections of 6th & E and 5th & E now present.

By the way for those interested to learn more about the specific project I was referring to in Chicago, check it out here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seattle shying away from daring architecture?

No, this is not me being lazy to post original updates. I swear! I've been meaning to post this interesting op-ed piece published recently in the Seattle P.I. that has to do with whether Seattle's modern architecture is running too conservative for an otherwise emerging international city. While I try to stay away from the carnage of harsh criticism, critic Lawrence W. Cheek is apparently more than happy to tackle whatever building design has gotten in his bonnet.

On one building in Seattle, Cheek writes:

"Lake Union Center on the ship canal waterfront, exudes all the panache of a Baptist Sunday School annex".

Ouch. Anyways, the rest of the article is here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Denali Project leases space in 188 Northern Lights

If you opened your Sunday edition of the Anchorage Daily News, you may have seen in the A section an ad from the Denali Project in which they proudly announce their permanent home for its Anchorage headquarters-- 188 West Northern Lights in Midtown. That's right, the building that since its summer completion has sat disturbingly empty is finally getting its first tenant! To backtrack, earlier this year during Sarah Palin's AGIA bidding, BP and ConocoPhillips created a joint venture known as the Denali Project which was their own pitch for the governor to compete with TransCanada and the very few other bidders for AGIA. During the conference announcing the venture, the people at Denali announced an Anchorage headquarters as one of the numerous incentives that Alaska would get with this Denali Project. One has to wonder though, what was plan B? headquarter in Sitka? Of course they'll headquarter in Anchorage! Anyways the company is leasing 40,000 square feet which according to Petroleum News will be just enough for some 175 employees. Agreements on leasing were made in late October.

While it's great to see such a deserving building receive a tenant, there's also some irony as well considering who the tenant is. In 2006, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported on some skepticism and concern about both the then infant JL Tower and 188 WNL possibly relying too much on the prospects of a natural gas line for an economic boom to fill their towers lease space.

Overall, it's going to be great to see 188 WNL finally have some of its interior lights on at night. You can watch that happen with this live view of the tower.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Glenn Square shaping up

After doing a write-up on the Tikahtnu Commons retail development in Muldoon, I figured I'd at least give some exposure to its rival down the road, Glenn Square. To catch up on the basics, Glenn Square came to be after a Seattle/Dallas based company bought the land from the Municipality in a joint effort with the city to continue the Mountain View revitalization as well as provide retail to what has been a part of town underserved by retail (at least big box chain retail). Glenn Square occupies 25 acres of land that was formally home to a junkyard (my dad's junkyard) and a landfill. Unlike Tikahtnu, Glenn Square is billed as a mixed-use project that will incorporate office space into floors above some of the retail space. So far the city's electric utility branch ML&P has already signed for the future space. Unlike your traditional high density mixed use development however, Glenn Square is more of the same type of development seen in Anchorage for the last 40 years as the development flies in the face of some of the most basic principles listed in the Title 21 Rewrite. That would include the developments failure to put parking in the rear or side of the building along with failing to have businesses facing the street rather than a parking lot. The People Mover does have a bus stop at the site though. But overall, I'd have to say Glenn Square missed its target of enriching East Anchorage and Mountain View and will add little if any benefit to the community. Though Mayor Mark Begich has been a great motivator in truly mixed-use projects (including proposing a 10-story tower himself in 2005) for the city, his blessing of Glenn Square along with the Tikhatnu Commons were a mistake.

Glenn Square blueprint (PDF file). Note that the blueprint itself is a bit dated as it's missing the clock tower while presuming Best Buy as a tenant (Best Buy later opted out for Tikahtnu).

A couple more visuals courtesy of Irwin Development.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Highway to Highway Project public input continues

Channel 2 just did a brief story on the DOT's planned Highway to Highway Project connecting the Seward and the Glenn. There's really no new information offered in this report, rather Channel 2 interviews the project manager for the Highway to Highway about what is being done as well interviewing a former transportation commissioner for the city who of course among many others has concerns about the projects potential negative impacts.

Watch the video

Also of interest:
Anchorage Citizens Coalition on the H2H Project

Official H2H Project website

Monday, October 27, 2008

Project in Profile: VA Clinic and Regional Office

The Department of Veterans Affairs is overseeing construction of a new building that will house a clinic for outpatient service along with regional offices. The site is across the street from the new Tikahtnu Commons right before the Fort Richardson gates. Sorry about the poor quality of the second picture, but god was it bitterly cold that morning. I had to snap a picture while driving just to stay warm and cozy in my little car. Anyways as you can see, it's going to be a huge place:

New People Mover buses roll out

The Alaska Journal of Commerce is reporting on its weekly paper today that the Anchorage People Mover now has 18 new buses on city streets. I personally don't know the make of the current buses, but the new ones are from New Flyer. A look at their website reveals some interesting sleek designs, but I also see some that look exactly like our current regular and DART buses. I guess I'll have to wait and see if any unusual looking People Mover rolls by in the coming days. Either that, or the new buses will be exactly identical to the ones in use since the 90's (hopefully not!). From the Alaska Journal article:

"Each 2008 New Flyer bus is equipped with automatic vehicle locators, passenger counters and computer-aided dispatching. Additional features include larger bike racks to hold three bicycles and a video camera system to enhance passenger safety and security".

Extra: Want to ride the People Mover, but don't know the schedule or map? Click Route Generator

As for the old buses, what will happen to them? Maybe they'll join this flickr pool.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

ConocoPhillips Science Building @ UAA

The ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building on the campus of UAA is finally nearing the completion of its exterior facade. Construction for the building broke ground in 2007 and is expected to be open in time for the fall semester of 2009. At 120,000 square feet, the building will house departments focused on chemistry, astronomy, geology, environmental science, physics, and a few other disciplines under one roof. A parking garage to accommodate the building will be built in the rear with spaces for over 400 vehicles. Now for those wondering, the new building will NOT be part of the campus "spine"-- the network of buildings connected via skybridge walkways. Yes, that's right; If you're planning to major in bio-chemistry or physics next fall, be sure to wear a thick coat come winter. The Nothern Light (the school's paper) is also reporting that the parking garage will be far from the new building and will therefore offer shuttle rides to and from the ISB from the garage entrance. Besides the Integrated Science Building, UAA recently held a ceremony for the ground breaking of its new Health Sciences Building which will be built across the street from campus next to Providence Hospital. Interestingly enough, this building will have a skybridge attached to it so that it can be accessible from the main campus without students and staff having to step outside. It'll be pretty cool to see a skybridge hanging over the busy Providence Drive.

Now to make things clear, I personally don't like the idea of skybridges when it comes to crowded urban areas. I'm against the idea that has been floating around for the last few years of connecting the new Dena'ina Center to the Performing Arts Center via City Hall. Don't like it, don't want it. It takes away potential foot traffic from the street while disfiguring the architectural sovereignty of each building with the connection of a non-conforming bridge. Most importantly, in a crowded area such as Downtown, destinations are much closer. The campus of UAA on the other hand is a relatively low density area in which buildings are surrounded by acres of surface parking. With its extremely tight availability of available parking near the building along with the bitter winter temperatures early in the year, it can make for a living hell when doing the walk to and from your car. Now I understand the skybridges wont fix this particular problem, but UAA has got to realize when doing its longterm planning that it has to start doing infill construction. Until then, skybridges will remain a solution for at least part of the low density problem. My $0.02.

Anyways here's a vid from UAA on the new ConocoPhillips building:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ADN editorial on Anchorage's new Title 21 codes

The staff at the Anchorage Daily News just recently published an editorial in which the newspaper takes the side of city planners and looks forward to the implementations of the Title 21 Rewrite which is in the homestretch of having its remaining sections approved by the Anchorage Assembly. For those still not in the know, Title 21, which covers zoning and planning, was ordered by the Anchorage 2020 Comprehensive Plan to be rewritten after decades of no alterations so as to address the need for alternative transportation, traffic calming, and having more sustainable use of land for the increasingly shrinking amount of available land in the Anchorage Bowl. Changes included in the rewrite of Title 21 range from small things such as having commercial properties with entrances accessible from the sidewalk, to designating Downtown and Midtown as hubs for which commercial and residential should be intermixed to give people greater freedom from having to rely on their car to make their errands or go to work. By the way, I'll always be sure update the joop and let readers know in advance whenever a public Title 21 Rewrite meeting is taking place later in the week. Meanwhile, check out the editorial:

ADN editorial on Title 21

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dena'ina officially opens to the public

So over the weekend the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center officially opened its doors to the public to show off what capabilities the new building can handle for future events that the much smaller Egan Center just couldn't take on. I wouldn't say it was as crowded as I initially feared, but there was a good showing by the public, most of whom were just impressed with the interior of the new civic center. As I've said in an earlier post, the Dena'ina Center is blessed to have been built in the 21st century and not the previous. The Egan Center's purple walls, stale art, casino-like carpet, and total absence of natural light in the main exhibition room (along with obviously the second exhibition room underground), was not aging well, to say the least. Thank goodness they at least took down those bicycle-like streamers that once hung over the main room from the ceiling. Now those were really gaudy. The Dena'ina, on the other hand, is a breathe of fresh air that took me back to the opening of Concourse C at the Anchorage International Airport with its abundant amount of natural light, clean and minimalist design, and use of a narrower Native color palette whenever color was needed. I think it's safe to say the rest of the public saw what I saw and were pleased with the results.

Just to restate some basic info, the Dena'ina Center broke ground in 2006 after the public approved use of bed-tax to fund the entire project. The Center contains 200,000 square feet and has increased the city's capacity of convention space by more than 300%. Recently, the ADN reported that the Dena'ina will operate at a loss for its first year (scroll down for the post on that story). The building is roughly the same height as the Hill Building (aka City Hall... but it will always be Hill Building to me) across the street.

Some pictures from the weekend opening (click to view):

By the way, I was pleased to see that the new convention center has a concession stand built into the main exhibit room. That was clearly the make or break for me...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tikahtnu Commons

Monday saw the opening of the new Target stores in both Anchorage and Wasilla. While Wasilla's Target store sits on the former location of the Cottonwood Creek Mall, Anchorage's first Target sits on fresh land and is the first in a number of future retail and entertainment to open in the $100 million plus Tikahtnu Commons mall. Being developed by the CIRI Native Corporation in partnership with a Californian developer, the "big box center" as one CIRI spokesman put it, will sit on 95 acres on Muldoon Road across the street from Bartlett High School and near the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Developers behind the project have touted that the mall will offer five times the amount in retail space that the Dimond Mall currently has. More importantly, the Tikahtnu Commons hopes to separate itself from the image of messy suburban sprawl by offering heated and possibly covered pathways linking from store to store. The mall is also expected to offer space for over 70 small local businesses while a street with large sidewalks will cut straight down through the mall's huge parking lot and act as sort of a Main Street with retail buildings built up to the sidewalk with parking in the rear. Besides Target, tenants already signed up to later occupy space in the new mall include Best Buy, Lowes, Regal Cinemas, Pet Smart, and Kohl's. Of course Tikahtnu Commons will not be the first "lifestyle center" type of mall to hit Anchorage as Glenn Square, just minutes west of the Tikahtnu mall, will also offer a variety of national chain stores, space for local retail, and more pedestrian friendly design -- most of which have already opened.

The question I have however is will the Tikahtnu Commons live up to what it's promised to be in terms of urban design? Judging by the looks of its competitor, Glenn Square, the answer would be no. Back in 2006 when Glenn Square was only a name, developers behind the project announced that the mall would set itself apart from your typical strip mall by offering a sort of village setting that would play host to an active public space complete with retail and dining within walking distance. Instead, Glenn Square has come to resemble the parcel of land in Dimond in which big box stores sit side by side with an ocean of asphalt in front. The only difference here is that the long row of big box stores has been snapped in half so as to have the storefronts face each other with a large swath of parking in between. After all, there's not a lot of space in Mountain View like what Dimond could offer. Also, despite Michaels, Petco, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Old Navy being open for a while, the mall was always eerily quiet during my few visits to the mall this summer. Should we expect this fate to happen with the Tikahntu Commons? Could it be at even more of a disadvantage due to its lurking location on the edge of the city? Or will the larger number of retailers and its Main Street design (which Glenn Square doesn't have) give Tikahtnu a niche? Unlike what we see in sprawling suburbs of the Lower-48, the Tikahtnu Commons will not be able to sprout cookie cutter homes around itself to sustain good business as the mall will sit right next to Fort Richardson. Acres of untouched forest in the area is also off limits as it sits under Fort Rich claim. Now I'm not saying the Tikahtnu Commons will become a mini ghost town, but it really seems that both this mall as well as the Glenn Square mall have seen their time come and go. That time being the 1990's. We'll see how this will all unfold in the coming months and years.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dena'ina Center opening celebration

Just thought I'd remind those interested that the new convention center will have its official opening this Saturday and Sunday. As someone who has walked through much of the new place, it's definitely worth a visit. Included in the opening ceremony will be all kinds of displays and stuff for sale from snow machines and cars, to wedding event decor demos (sounds like something for me to avoid).

From the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Boston Globe reports on Palin's anti-planning record

The Boston Globe just recently published an article on Sarah Palin's stand against development zoning and regulations as mayor of Wasilla -- the latest in a number of nationally syndicated articles to be published on the subject since Governor Palin received the VP nod by Senator John McCain in late August. The article delves in a bit as to how Palin successfully gouged the Mat-Su Valley's libertarian/conservative emotions which included trumpeting the warning calls of creeping government building regulations that were seen as toxically mixing in with the continued economic growth Wasilla was seeing in the 90s. The article also interviews a local advocate who reveals that two reps with Fred Meyers were laughing in the hallways at a planning meeting as they were amused with how easy they were able to get their company's first store to be built with so little if any revising of their plans.

link to the article:
Anti-zoning key to Palin's early record

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Project in Profile - Native Hospital Expansion

Just thought I'd cover some of the lesser known projects well under way throughout the Anchorage Bowl to make up for the lack of fresh developments coverage as construction progress citywide starts to slow now that the grass is turning crunchy with frost in the morning and people rush to Johnson's Tire Service in a last minute panic to get their studded tires on.

One project that took me by a bit of surprise when driving west down Tudor recently is an expansion of the Alaska Native Medical Center. Okay that's not so surprising, especially considering the new building is rising next to the new parking garage. That area of town has certainly become a high-density free-for-all over the last 7 years or so. Kinda like Midtown in the 70s and 80s. One of my favorite restaurants, 'The Last Frontier' fell victim to this progress three years ago as the building was demolished to make way for the now just completed garage. Anyways the new building currently going up will serve as an expansion to the existing Alaska Native Primary Care Center across the street from the Native Medical Center and will be operated by the Southcentral Foundation (which also runs the existing ANPCC). According to the Foundation, the expansion will be 80,000 square feet and will serve to the needs of the growing number of patients relocating from the villages to Anchorage. The new building, or "Phase III" as they call it, is expected to be completed in late 2009.

Of course we haven't seen the peak yet. In an article last year for the Alaska Business Monthly, the administrator with the Alaska Native Medical Center mentions plans in the future for a parking garage north of the hospital along with a $123 million dollar expansion.

(click to view)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

7th and C traffic lights flick on

The intersection of 7th Avenue and C Street wasn't so much an intersection as it was more of an alley going through a highway. That was until late last week when the traffic lights which were installed later in the summer were uncovered from their protective sheets and put into operation. Since the discussions of an expansion to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art came to the forefront some years ago, the topic of reconnecting the museum to lively West Downtown also became part of that discussion. As my local Anchoragites can attest, while the Egan, Dena'ina, and Performing Arts Center as well as other attractions enjoy a close pedestrian friendly proximity from one another, the Anchorage Museum of History and Art paired with the Federal Building across the street have for many years become excluded from the "in-crowd" of downtown attractions as they sat on the other side of a busy three lane artery that is free of stop signs and where cars coming from the Glenn Highway or the port of Anchorage often accelerate up to 40 mph south toward Midtown. If you're not catching on, C Street is such a wide and divisive road that it has become the unofficial boundary line between West Downtown and East Downtown. Though the city has been making an effort for years now, East Downtown continues to lag way behind the lively West, and I think C Street may be a factor. Now of course a set of lights will not cure all the problems, rather there is still a long way to go; but it's start. Besides the lighted intersection, the proposed controversial Highway to Highway project would keep commuters on the Glenn Highway and direct them into the Seward Highway rather than having traffic leave the highway in large numbers and flooding into C Street like a gush of water breaking through a dam. And it's not just C Street that is a problem. It's also A Street, 5th Avenue, and 6th Avenue. In the meantime, it will be nice to see how things are next summer once the new museum is open and pedestrians are no longer having to make a mad dash to the other side so as to not become roadkill.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Title 21 public discussion

This Thursday at noon the Muni will be hosting a brown bag discussion on the Title 21 Rewrite that is open for all who are interested. From the email:

"This is an opportunity to ask questions and learn about Anchorage’s recommended new off-street parking regulations relative to the other site development provisions in Title 21 that are now going forward to the municipal Planning & Zoning Commission for deliberation and action. The brown bag agenda includes a 20-minute presentation and 30 minutes for dialogue, Q and A. Participants will get an overview and have opportunities to ask questions about topics such as:

* How the required number of parking spaces is (and is not) changing;
* Flexible parking standards that recognize different project locations and characteristics;
* How the number of spaces affects user convenience, development costs, location, and Anchorage 2020 policies;
* Balancing quality and quantity: parking space dimensions, landscaping, and lighting; and
* Balancing trip choice: placement of buildings near sidewalks; maintaining driver convenience; required walkways; bicycle parking; share-a-ride and transit"

"The Brown Bag will be from 12 noon to 1 p.m. in the Planning and Development Center's Training Room, 4700 Elmore Road, Anchorage".

For those not in the know, Title 21 is the Municipalities guide that deals with planning and land use codes. It's been 400 years since it was last updated, but with the city adopting the Anchorage 2020 Comprehensive Plan back in 2001, a rewrite of Title 21 is needed in order to carry out what Anchorage 2020 calls for. This includes greater pedestrian friendliness, alternative uses of transportation, and more sustainable use of land. To respond to this, Title 21 is being rewritten with codes that include zoning changes, restrictions on surface parking lots, financial benefits for developers of mixed-use projects, and other new standards. The large stack of papers that is Title 21 is to be reviewed and possibly amended chapter by chapter by the Anchorage Assembly. Several chapters have already been passed, and if I'm correct, there's only a small amount left.

As you can see, I provided a link to the Muni's page on Title 21, but consider yourself warned! Any attempt to read every document relating to Title 21 without getting off your chair is certain to create severe blood circulation problems. If you must read it all, please take breaks and stretch every once in a while.

Dena'ina Center to operate at a loss

First it was my story on Wasilla's suburban mess, now the ADN is reporting on the new convention center one day after I write a post about it here. Hmmm... are they getting their story ideas from yours truly? Eh.. maybe not. Regardless, the Dena'ina Center makes the front page of Mondays Anchorage Daily News with an article about how although the convention centers backers have been able to show off the buildings on-time completion along with maintaining its promise not to use property tax, the new building along with the Egan Center will operate at a loss for the first full year. To make things more interesting, the $1.47 million that is being projected as a loss into 2009 is way too close for comfort as the cap of funding from bed-tax is set at $1.6 million. Should that cap be exceeded, who will foot the bill? Okay, now that I've got you interested, read the article.

On a related note, another article on one of the art installations that can be found in the building (seen above^, left) thanks to the 1% art program, also from Monday's ADN.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A look inside the Dena'ina Convention Center

If you didn't go to see some stand up by Damon Wayans and his son Friday at the new convention center, Saturday was your second chance. The Dena'ina Center hosted both the Alaskan Student Youth Conference, and a rally for the McCain/Palin campaign. Though neither event sounded the least bit interesting, that of course didn't stop me from mozying on down and wandering my way around the new building with camera at hand to get some interior shots. Just to remind readers, the Dena'ina Center is no doubt a significant addition to the city's total space for trade shows and conventions. The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau claims the $111 million 200,000 square foot building adds a 300% increase to the total capacity the city can handle in convention and civic space. A look inside the building will make you convinced as it has for me. Despite the convention center occupying only one city block rather than 3 in a earlier proposal (which was voted down by residents due to its original finance scheme), the interior is ridiculously huge and will have to make you wonder what kind of trade show or event will demand the use of every room in the building. Unlike the Egan Center, the ceilings are much higher on each floor while the lobby at the entrance has a dramatic canyon effect in which there's nothing between the ground floor and the very top of the building. Most noticeably however, is the amount of natural light that floods into each floor of the building. Even on a cloudy day, you don't sense any need for artificial lighting to be on. I don't even recall whether the lights in the main hallways were actually on or not. This use of natural light really makes the building a nice alternative to the dark windowless Egan Center and Sullivan Arena. In a departure from its older brothers, even the main exhibition hall has windows. But before you even plot, no, you can't watch whatever is happening in the hall from the streets. Trust me, I figured it was a defect and that I can watch Damon Wayans through the window with a glass cup to my ear. Sadly that wasn't to be. Each window has giant blinds that can be pulled down come showtime. And yes, they were sadly pulled down. In the end, the new convention center brought me back to when the Terminal C Concourse at the airport opened three years ago. The modern minimalist architecture combined with an intense amount of natural light for a non-airport building is a first for a public building in the city (though it won't be the last once the new museum expansion opens a few blocks east). Before I sign off for today, I gotta mention that the Dena'ina Center was added by someone to the website of ClubPlanet -- a directory for nightlife hot spots. Here's what they say in a brief review:

"Dena''ina Center - Beer? Check. Newspapers? Check. Dena''ina Center, at 600 W 7Th Ave, offers your usual selection of imports, domestics, and so on. Craaaaazy, out-of-control entertainment? Ummmm… Not so much. Your odds of meeting "the one" here are approximate to what you’d find on a desert island (less, when you consider "Lost"), but your odds of finding a six-pack are damn near 100%".

I can't say I'm surprised by the review. Had the Dena'ina Center failed to supply me with an abundant amount of newspapers and beer that morning, I would have to question the motives and integrity of the developers behind this building. As for the "craaaaazy" out-of-control entertainment, I beg to differ! Clearly they didn't see Hobo Jim entertain the crowd at the McCain/Palin rally.

By the way, an open house to the public will be held October 18th just before the AFN conference begins. I shall return!

(click to view)