Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
As for the Anchorage connection, you might have spotted an article in last Tuesdays ADN in which developers and planners who are re-crafting Title 21 codes are in a skirmish of sorts over parking and landscaping. Both are wanting to trim down on the amount of required parking while city planners want added landscaping which developers fear would offset the cost saved by less parking. I have to agree with the developers on this one. Besides discouraging investment or at least keeping costs the same, landscaping doesn't solve the need to make Anchorage more compact and still takes up land. It also means more manicured lawns and shrubs to maintain which includes even more use of water.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Well it has arrived. Crowne Plaza, formerly the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, opened its first Alaska hotel in Midtown around early fall. Unlike the uninspired flood of Midtown cardboard box hotels that sprouted throughout Midtown in the last ten years, the Crowne Plaza stands out -- and in a good way too. While its competitors use material that make the building look like it's made of cardboard, the Crowne Plaza features a facade of brick on the bottom half, and concrete on the top complete with arch ornamentation on the roof, an uneven facade of uniform windows, and a setback on the bottom after the first floor. The result -- a charming early 20th century style hotel that puts its surroundings, particularly the neighboring hotels nearby, to absolute shame. For those not familiar with the location, the new hotel sits a spitting distance from the also fairly new Marriot and Motel 6 -- both of which continue the ugly hotel style that should be greeted by the city with as much hostility as big box stores. The good news -- the Crowne Plaza sits on the corner of the block thus blocking the ugly hotels from view. Unfortunently the intersection of C Street and Int'l Airport Road and the area around it has a long ways to go, which brings me to another question: why here? Of all the places the Crowne Plaza and its developers could have chosen, why the southern industrial end of Midtown? Why Midtown in general, for that matter? When people think of Midtown, all that can be thought up is old 70s strip malls, parking lots, and a couple of 70s boxy highrises here and there. Southern Midtown, where the Crowne Plaza can be found, is even worse. To the south of the hotel sits self storage warehouses, industrial lots, auto-related businesses, oh and a carpet store. To the north, you have the Vomit Strip -- Applebee's, TGI Fridays, and the centerpiece of all things horrifying, the Golden Corral All-You-Can-Eat pigslop barn. For those not familiar with Golden Corral, it's the one place in which everyone around you weighs over 250 lbs., the food tastes like it came out of a microwave after being shipped in from its hq in North Carolina, and candy corn among other sweets can literally be scooped on to your plate like it was mash potatos -- even the old Royal Fork buffet knew not to go this far. Outside, the parking lot is more than twice the footprint of the building, ultra bright white lights shine down making it look like a car dealership at night, and a electric scroll sign that looks like it came from the 80s greets you and all other passing motorists on C Street. But now I'm going off topic... but I had to get my Golden Corral rant off my chest -- again.
Anyways back on topic, instead of being in its present location, I would have much preferred that the Crowne take the place of the Clairion Suites in Downtown -- another of those unoriginal and ugly slanted roof buildings. Besides fitting it with the more respectable Downtown, the Crowne hotel at that location would be across the street from the Federal Building, diagnal from the Anchorage Museum including the new museum wing, across the street from Nordstrom, and three blocks from the Performing Arts Center, and the Dena'ina convention center. Choices in dining include Humpy's, Bernie's Bungalow, Crush Bistro + Cellar, and Sullivan's Steakhouse among the surrounding blocks not to mention Orso's, the Brewhouse, Sack's, and the Snowgoose within the next couple of blocks after that. As stated earlier, the current dining options nearby the actual location of the Crowne in Midtown are Applebee's, Golden Corral, and TGI Fridays. Oh, forgot Ihop too -- can't forget that. Civically speaking, the Loussac Library is close by, but not close enough considering the walking to be done along the large stretched blocks made up of lonley narrow sidewalks runing next to 45 mph traffic and parking lots. Plus among the civic institutions, the library is really the last thing any visitor really cares to be close to. Among the cultural attractions, ummm... I guess the Alaska Bush Company strip club? It's just down the road in fact, next to the auto repair shop.
In the end, the Crowne Plaza hotel is a welcome addition to the cityscape. Its unique architecture is not only a first among the series of midsized hotels, but also a first in Anchorage architecture in general. Its location however is a testament to the haywire zoning and planning of this city.
what sits directly across from the hotel:
where the hotel should have instead been located:
Friday, November 6, 2009
Earlier this year I made a post regarding the construction of Centerpoint West, an eight floor office building in Midtown complimenting the already existing Centerpoint building and JL Tower. Unlike the previous high density buildings going up, I was kinda nervous about how this one would turn out. The reason for this was that in the artist rendering of the office tower, the building looked like it was coming out of a time machine straight from the 1970s or 80s. Well, nearly a year has come and gone, and while construction continues on the garage accompanying it, the building is pretty much done. How did the buildings actual appearence turn out? I can tell you it's imo certainly better looking than the yellowish/jungle green building depicted on the signs advertising office space. Then again as you probably know yourself if you follow these kinds of things, artistic renderings of how a building is going to look usually never match, and sometime are far from looking like the actual product (trust me, I've seen some really bad ones...). With that out of the way, the building still isn't anything special. Unlike its nearby neighbors with arched or wedge shape roofs, curved facades, colorful LED lights, or silhouette drawings, Centerpoint West takes a more strict modernist approach. This, I would like. The problem is while the architects took a different approach with this one, it looks like they did it while going for the lowest price possible. It basically looks cheap... really cheap. It's like the building is trying to replicate the much better looking 188 West Northern Lights tower which is similar in design with the building split with one side being strip windows and the other being all glass. It just doesn't work here. The materials used just look shoddy. And why green again? At least it's not gold (now that would've been realllly 80's), but the ASRC building is just nearby. I think light blue, or just clear like in the new convention center would've worked better with the gray. Other than that, the building has shaped up to be what was expected. I'm glad they went for a parking garage. That whole area, formally a trailer park, would've become a parking nightmare with all the new office towers and employees going in and out with less and less space to park. Centerpoint West is building #6 to go up in the area (known by few as "Plaza 36") since 2000 and more building(s) are expected to go up.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Checkout the article on Sunday's ADN regarding the one year anniversary of the opening of the new Dena'ina convention center. Apparently, despite the downturn in the economy this last year, the center is meeting and exceeding estimated revenue projections made in 2005. Also, not a single event was cancelled this last year despite the economy while bookings for future events are going in to 2014. During this first year of operation, I've been paying close attention to the center and have since observed some goods and bads. For the goods: the convention center actually brings people to the usually empty streets of South Downtown. During weekend events, crowds can leave the center and cross the street to McGinley's Pub, Humpy's, or just all of downtown in general which wouldn't be the case had these events taken place in the far away Sullivan Arena -- the venue that formally housed some of the events now going to the Dena'ina. Yet the bad thing about the convention center is its very self. Though it's more welcoming than the parking lot that came before it, whenever the convention center is not is use (which is often), the whole block which the building occupies sits empty further contributing to the deserted anti-human scale street life that South Downtown has long suffered. While I supported the citys efforts at a new larger convention center since efforts began in 2002 and continue to do so, I hope this convention center will be the last of the superblock variety. To see the success rate of these superblocks, all one has to do is look across the street from the Dena'ina and look at the ConocoPhillips complex, or the 6th avenue parking garage across from that -- places that are too spooky to walk by after 6:00 in the evening.
I hate to sound like Debbie Downer on these things, but I can't help it. But I do realize you can't have a convention center complete with the street charms of 4th Avenue or G Street and because of this, I'm content with the center. I'm also pleased with the exterior (and interior) architecture of the building, which like the new museum, you can tell had no input from the majority Anchorage public (sorry guys -- but hey I was born here). Otherwise the building would look like something from the 80s with whales and mountains painted all over. The back of the convention center is indeed however, a nightmare. I especially feel sorry for the people in the small apartments across from it who have to see that monstrous site every morning.
BTW for those curious, events that have taken place this first year since its opening include Cedric the Entertainer, the International Beard and Moustache Competition, Damon Wayans, a Sarah Palin rally, AFN (twice now, sorry Fairbanks), the Oxygen & Octane Expo, a oil/climate change meeting with some of Obama's cabinet secretaries, and a barrage of events during the night that the state celebrated it's 50th in January among many smaller events. Here's to another successful year *cling*
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Earlier last month, I noticed a small cottage that housed a hotel on 9th Avenue was gone. About a week later, I noticed an abandoned building that once housed a florist in East Downtown had also bitten the dust. Now more recently, a building that sat in the shadow of the new convention center has suddenly disappeared. Now I know these are not demolitions that occurred a long time ago that I just now noticed -- I know full well that these three places were still around as recent as early August as I'm in the area just about everyday. Of course this is nothing new as Downtown recently saw the Alaska Experience Theater, a neighboring 60s/70s era two story office building, and the much beloved "Wings 'n Things" restaurant meet their demise in the last two years. The addition of this new round of demolitions makes this all more than just isolated events -- it's becoming a trend. I think it's safe to say, without having to do research into each of these new demo's, that the demand for parking is too great, and therefore there's land out there that would make more profit parking cars than being occupied by a building. That's exactly what happened with the Experience Theater in 2007 which I noticed hardly attracted tourists in the summer, and was just downright abandoned during the nine months of winter. Head out there today -- especially with The Lion King playing one block over at the Performing Arts Center, and the property is just packed with cars. I can only imagine how large of a jump in profits Mark Pfeiffer (the owner) is getting out of the land compared to its previous use. Ditto for the former site of Wings 'n Things which was also converted into surface parking.
The good news is surface parking is usually a temporary use of property, and thank goodness for that. Nothing is more embarrassing and pathetic than knowing a property makes more money parking cars than being occupied by a building. It says a lot about us as residents of the city and where our priorities are. And I'm not alone. Eradicating surface parking is usually the goal cities across the country have strive for and there has been much success. If you see old postcards of cities such as Seattle, Austin, Houston, or Sacramento during the second half of the 20th century, you'll notice many city blocks entirely occupied by surface parking that if you visit today, aren't there anymore as they house condos, retail, apartments, and offices -- much of them being built just in the last 10 years despite the parking lots being around for 40 years or more. The reason for this is that we have re-entered a pre-WWII paradigm in which city planners are once again developing cities for people and not the automobile. Boston, San Francisco, New York, (and soon Seattle) have dismantled their overhead post-WWII freeways that run through their downtowns; condos and apartments in this decade have replaced offices as the most common use of highrise for the first time in US history as many residents move into gentrified city centers, and street-car systems which vanished just about everywhere in the 1940s and 50s except for say, San Francisco and New Orleans are making a comeback in places like Seattle, Sacramento, Milwaukee, and even some unsuspecting places like Dallas, Phoenix, and Charlotte, North Carolina. But I'm beginning to go off topic here. The point is while many of these newly opened properties in the heart of Anchorage will eventually revert back from parking space to even more profitable larger buildings; catering to cars should never be a meaningful priority as it only legitimizes and encourages more auto use and thus continues the status quo of the last few decades in which private car is the only way to efficiently get around.
As there has been for many decades, the complaint of lack of parking (despite already having three public garages) in Downtown won't go away for a long time. But rather than doing what we have done for the past 40 or so years, the way to address the problem is to increase alternative options for getting around. Having condos and apartments in Downtown would be a start -- right now housing is only on the perimeter in Bootleggers Cove, South Addition, and Government Hill while the few housing inside the Downtown townsite (9th to 3rd Ave, I St. to C St.) is reserved for low income, or are half-way houses. While we may not yet have the demand for street-cars and are decades away from a subway, improvements to the People Mover in addition to new zoning and building codes from the almost complete Title 21 codes, which were made to be compatible by designating high density commercial centers in Downtown and Midtown and neighborhood town centers, would be a big help imo. After all, put a bus stop in a compact piece of real estate that houses large amounts of people living and/or working with limited parking, and there's bound to be a difference.
In the end, I probably shouldn't be writing this confidently on the idea that parking lots are indeed what will replace each of these properties. After all, Anchorage is for the first time in its history entering a problem no outsider would think can happen to a city in the vast state of Alaska -- running out of land. As available land shrinks, values go up, and urban infill starts to takeoff. A text book example of this consequence is the replacement of the former Balto's Restaurant and its whole parking lot with a 4 story parking garage and 10 story office stacked on top. Another is the uprooting of a decades old trailer court neighborhood that was replaced with a series of office buildings (and more on the way) off 36th Avenue in Midtown. Another reason why I figured I should pause and factor in rising land values and not just parking demand is because the building I mentioned in the first paragraph, which recently housed the offices of management overseeing construction of the convention center, and before that, housed offices to the AFSCME union (I know, because I worked there as a janitor) doesn't look to be the only building in that block getting the axe. It's next door neighbor, the Pioneer Building, which housed Stephens Fine Art, Sub Zero Micro Lounge (is it still open?), and more recently some corny Disney Store like tourist trap selling Humpy's t-shirts and mugs has city permit notices posted on its windows that say "demo". Considering that this building and its already razed neighbor are sitting on the newly designed and fashionable F Street between the PAC and the convention center, I think we may be seeing a project already proposed for the area come next spring when construction season starts again. The location of these two sites is just too good to be left as parking for a long time. I personally think the two sites would make a good location for 4 to 6 story mixed use buildings housing condos and apartments on the top floors, and retail/dining on the bottom floor. A similar building (see below post) is being proposed across from Town Square on the JC Penny parking lot. As of now, we don't have any type of medium sized building that serves this purpose. Right now Downtown has either small cottages, or overbearing souless office towers.
btw also worth noting, the annual Fur Rondy pancake feed also takes place inside the Pioneer Building. Certainly Rondy officials will have to find another location, or face an angry mob looking for there buttermilk goodness.
Friday, September 11, 2009
With the leaves turning yellow and six minutes of sunlight being lost everyday, there's no reason for me to be thrilled. Winter is dreadful what with the constant darkness and most importantly, the halt on construction progress. Unlike last winter however, which saw E Street closed for nearly a year and much of Downtown covered in ugly orange construction signs and barricades, all of the improvements made to the Town Square area of town are formally complete. It kinda started off with phase one being completion of the new convention center and parking garage along with the redesign of F Street which was meant to draw a connection between the convention center and the Performing Arts Center two blocks down. After that, phase two started as E Street and parts of Town Square were shut down as pavement on the street was replaced with bricks, sidewalks were widened, parallel parking spots were eliminated, concrete planters and new light poles were added, curbs were eliminated, and a more formal entrance was developed for Town Square. Similar changes, btw, were made to the intersection one block south at 7th and E as it now sports a bottleneck intersection with brick sidewalks and I believe a raised intersection as well. Blueprints for the E Street Corridor suggest changes will actually span from Delaney Park Street to 3rd Avenue while actual changes seen right now only stretch from 7th Avenue to 5th. Whatever the case, construction for now has ceased right on time before the snow comes along and puts whatever remaining progress in a freeze.
Of course both phase one and two didn't come easy. Voters initially rejected the proposed convention center on the grounds of how it will be funded. Then the construction of both the center and the parking garage resulted in much limited parking space as both sites were being built on former surface parking lots. Phase 2 saw some humiliation as a raised brick intersection at 5th and E started coming loose as I believe cars and expanding ice took their toll on the blocks. The bricks had to be taken out and replaced with an awkward looking intersection made up of smooth slabs of yellowish concrete meant to compensate for the absence of bricks (they should at least shave brick patterns an inch deep into the slabs). Earlier before the brick embarrassment, a potential setback arose with the accusation by a assembly member toward then Mayor Mark Begich and the conflict of interest he had as the E Street Corridor Project which he promoted would go right by the Kimball Building, which houses the Kobuk Cafe partly owned by Begich's wife. The charges were dismissed by the Alaska Public Offices Commission which takes up such complaints. With these hurdles in mind along with a new city administration not likely to invest in such urban projects in its next 4 to 8 years, it makes this completion of projects all the more sweet. All these improvements already appear to be having a positive effect as a proposal for a mixed use building on what is now a surface parking lot has come to fruition. It'll be interesting to see what other new private projects will come about as a result of the rising property values from the improvements that have finally come to a completion.
click to view
Thursday, September 3, 2009
For the sake of archiving (why else do I have a blog?), I figured I should acknowledge the fact that construction on the new museum has finally come to a conclusion a couple months ago complete with the ribbon cutting ceremony, public officials, and a fresh new exhibition on hand on opening day. The museum, particularly the exterior, is gorgeous especially when heading east down 6th avenue with its transparent facade and unique shape giving it the appearance that it's constantly in motion as you pass by it. Inside, the museum's new wing includes beefed up security and modern air temperature systems which besides allowing Anchorage to catch up to other museums, also allows it to carry more major exhibitions. I think it's later this year (or maybe next) that works from Andy Warhol will be on display (a must go), while before that there will be a showcase of ...Star Wars props *sigh*
It was the Anchorage Press that reminded me that I should post about the museum as they have recently reported on the birch trees now being planted in the yet to be finished park in front of the building. In addition, sidewalks have been widened dramatically and a stop light has been added nearby where cars previously had gone 45 mph without stopping until four blocks down. Word is the bus stop that sits in front of the future park will also get a major upgrade. Meanwhile on the other side of the museum, a curious looking windowless cube has been built (it's actually been there for almost a year now) which will house a planetarium. It's far from looking as cool as Upper Manhattan's Hayden Planetarium, but eh, whatev. One last tidbit -- the museum has apparently gone through a name change as brochures and other marketing material along with the front exterior simply say "Anchorage Museum" rather than the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. I approve.
Here's a link to another blog from someone who took plenty of interior shots along with his own reviews on the new wing.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I was thinking of going the Glenn Beck route and listing my "7 principles and 12 commandments" or whatever he does, but I figured my recommendations wouldn't be taken more seriously than anyone elses just because of creativity in presentation. Speaking of seriousness, I was tempted to go off and pull a London/Singapore by suggesting we have toll roads as those two cities recently have done (New York and San Francisco also recently looked at such ideas), but I knew I was just asking for it being this is Anchorage. Other ideas listed above such as regulating and taxing vice activities are also not that far fetched and I think it would be nice if we as a city could at least discuss that, but again, as the resident-cynic, I don't expect any of those proposals to be brought up. Then again, Wasilla of all places, and under Palin of all people, did get bars to delay their last call until 5am. New York City's last call is 4am. Anyways I'm going off -- let's just get to my recommendations for closing the gap:
1. - Halt all future road construction projects that involve new turn lanes, extra lanes, wider lanes, etc. We traditonally throw a ridiculous amount of money into new roads with every election that see's bonds up for vote. It's time that comes to a stop. If traffic gets worse because that new turn lane is not yet built, too bad. Maybe you should've taken the bus. I can let pothole repairs go and other upkeep of existing roads, but we have enough aspahlt layed on the ground. No more is needed.
2. - Tax churches and other institutions currently tax exempt. Jerry Prevo, Anchorage's Boss Tweed, strong armed the legislature from taxing his housing units next to his Baptist Temple in East Anchorage. From here on out, all buildings under church ownership that are not used for actual worshipping should be taxed. This includes housing, educational buildings, and giant ugly inflatable sports domes (I'm looking at you, ChangePoint). Perhaps there should also be a tax to UAA should they choose to go forward with the construction of a new arena. Like UAA does best, the new arena will take up forest land next to Providence Hospital rather than already developed land. The city's message to UAA should be "re-develop the Wells Fargo Center, or pay a hefty price".
3. - Tax extra to businesses that want to send human billboards to the side of the street. As everyone here has seen these last couple of years, the new fad is to pay homeless or teens to stand roadside holding a sign, sometimes doing a little dance, just so they can convince you to have your taxes done with them, buy a lotto ticket, or check out a furniture store going out of business. Speaking of furniture stores going out of business, there should be a hefty fine for businesses that litter the roadside with small lawn signs that advertise, oh I dunno... Morgans Home Furnishing, or Kitts Camera Repair...
4. - Charge extra tax to retail businesses that take up valuable industrial land. Right now Target is building a big box retail on the newly opened stretch of C Street between O'Malley and Dimond. The land in that area was intended for industry, but as has been done over and over, a national retailer quickly sneaked in and purchased land that not only allows for their presence, but also allows for the scraps that follow -- fast food chains, strip malls, and chain restaurants that serve dog food like TGI Friday's, Applebee's, or Golden Corral (Golden Corral is actually a pig slop barn -- my bad). Industrial land is already scarce, and we have enough commercial centers for new businesses.
5. - No more roadside landscaping. Even before the budget crisis, new traffic islands have been neglected as the grass grows tall and yellow. Take away the flower patch in front of the "Anchorage Welcomes You" signs. Thinking about replacing the wide concrete median with one filled with grass. Cancel it. Outside of Downtown, we can try to beautify the suburban mess that makes up most of the Bowl with band aids in the form of landscaping, but the results have historically been dreadful as upkeep is never consistant.
6. - Seek the State of Alaska's cooperation in shutting down KABATA and the bridge project. Though the last on my list, the city would get off to a great start by jumping on this recommendation first. The last thing we need is a 300 million dollar plus (I don't even know what the cost is anymore) boondoggle of a project that has struggled to find investors, threatens to send our tax base to Houston and Wasilla, and is only two lanes with a toll booth and a drive time longer than the Glenn Highway. KABATA itself has been a mess with the resignation of members (most notably George Wuerch and Henry Springer), PR disasters, and lack of adequate answers to many concerns -- all on the taxpayers dime. As it stands right now, the transportation board that oversee's major projects for South Central has voted 3 to 2 to shelve the bridge until 2018, however the mayor of Houston (the same guy who pulls drivers over in his personal BMW and has countless of YouTube-worthy squabbles with the city council) has taken that decision to court.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Late last week at a courthouse down the street from the theater, the Lathrop Building, which was held by Northrim Bank on foreclosure from Joe Gottstein, was sold to Peach Investments of San Francisco. Since early in the decade, Peach had been interested in purchasing the theater with speculation that it wanted to convert the basement of the theater into a fitness center while the parcel of land directly behind the theater between the Key Bank (also owned by Peach) and First National Building on 5th Avenue would give rise to a 20+ story mixed-use building. As you probably know, the theater has been through a circus latley with the city, private foundations, its owner, and the bank all getting involved in these last few years as the theater changes hands once again since Gottstein bought the building in 1991. The theater itself has been out of operation since the 1980s and since then has played occasional host to your typical banquet, fundraiser, whatever. Preservationists, and rightly so, are concerned about what will happen with the building under the new ownership. I personally think the building will be taken care of under Peach, but we'll see what happens. One good thing about the theater being out of the hands of Gottstein is that with a much wealthier owner, the theater may see some serious TLC and aggressively seek opportunities to hold events or tenants. After 20 years under the good intentioned Gottstein, the theater seemed to be in a pergatory with nothing major happening. In fact I think we might be seeing action already taken as the front doors to the theater have been boarded up. I can't say for sure that the new owners are the ones responsible for this, but as someone who goes by the theater almost every day, I do know the wood was certainly not there a week ago. Earlier this year one of the display windows to the theater was shattered and remains with no glass.
BTW Peach Investments is indeed the same group behind the beautiful mixed-use 188 WNL tower on C Street between Benson and Northern Lights over in Midtown. I think this is why I don't feel too concerned about Peach being the new owner. Besides 188 WNL, the proposed Peach Tower behind the 4th Avenue Theater would also be a mixed-use building that is a level above the rest of the highrise inventory here in Anchorage. Mixed-use buildings are important in that they help foster street life by offering retail and other services on the bottom floor for the residents and/or the office workers above. Many of our highrise offices such as the ConocoPhillips building, or the new JL Tower don't offer that, and as a result their immediate surroundings are dead of pedestrian activity. Mixed-use buildings have surged in popularity, and in some cases mandated by city governments as they all contribute to more efficient economics. The proposed Augustine Energy Center for 6th and G Street will also be mixed-use as well as proposed Town Square Center on 6th and E. But I digress. What I'm trying to get at is that those who understand the need for mixed-use buildings usually come from the same school that embraces the concept of refurbishing warehouses and historical buildings into lofts or other uses. If you've been in a relatively big city in the lower-48 in the last few years, chances are you've seen many of these conversions taking place (many small cities are also seeing this happen). The idea of demolishing a historical building in place of a parking garage or a modernist bland building was a Robert Moses philosophy that flourished in the mid 20th century and peaked in the 60s with the demolition of New York's Penn Station. City planners have since learned from the mistakes made during that 50s-60s period and we're now continuing further into the Jane Jacobs philosophy. Of course we can never be sure that the theater will be saved, and people should be on the look out no doubt; but I hope and suspect the Lathrop Building is in good hands.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
With what seems like a week now of nothing but cloudless skies and sweltering temperatures flirting with the 70s (quite unusual for late April-early May), I decided to do some cruising around town and went by Muldoon which besides being home to the new Tikahtnu Commons, is also home to the Creekside Town Center -- a project I admittedly forgot about and thought it was for whatever reason put on hold [edit: turns out it was put on hold for a few years]. Mark Pheiffer, the guy behind the controversial Downtown parking lot deal and hopeful developer of the Augustine Energy Center teamed up with Jerry Nesser (of Nesser Construction Inc., of course) to build a pedestrian friendly "town center" that would be home to a mix of retail and various types of housing. Since Pheiffer's announcement back in 2003 about his plans, some of the footprints for the project have been spoiled as GCI, Walgreens, and soon Wal-Mart have developed sections along DeBarr Road with status quo developments that aren't consistent with the Creekside Town Center standards. Still, the majority of land on the south side of DeBarr was eventually bought and is in the middle of construction as we speak.
Despite my very skeptical predictions for this development, my visit to the completed portion of Creekside made for a pleasant surprise to myself. Upon driving down the main avenue leading into the town center, the houses that face the street have no driveway nor a garage. In its place is the classic appearance of porches, stairs, and entrances that lead to a path separated from the roadway. There's not a snout-house in sight. Away from the main entrance are units that face each other with what looks to be a future stream of water that will someday run between the homes along with picnic tables and barbecue grills to the side. Though Creekside is just beginning to get its trickle of tenants, it's easy to visualize the neighborhood residents out by the stream with the barbecue going on a hot summer evening. Architecturally, it seems there is not one house alike as the facades of the homes stay diverse so as to make the area feel more genuine and not look like a giant subdivision that was built overnight. I'm very aware of the criticism of Disneyfying with the faux-historical architecture, but I think I'd rather see more Disneyfied neighborhoods like these than what we see elsewhere in the city. As for the garages and driveways, they're there -- they're just placed in the rear.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
The city has released more than you could ever want to know on the recommendations set out by the Anchorage Bike Plan. Major proposals include bicycle lanes along A/C Streets from O'Malley to Benson, a bicycle lane on Northern Lights Boulevard from LaTouche Street down to Postmark Drive at the airport (along with a lane going down Postmark Drive itself), a connection uniting the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail with the new bike trail that runs along Ship Creek to Mountain View; and though not officially backed by the Plan, a proposal is made for a bike trail that runs alongside the railroad tracks from Spenard to Huffman. The Alaska Railroad by the way does not support the idea as they plan to increase the speed of their trains to 79 mph. The goal of the Anchorage Bike Plan is to layout a reliable network of bike lanes, shared roads, and trails to accomodate not for recreationist, but rather for bicycle commuters making errands to the grocery store or whatever in everyday life.
One problem with the proposed bike network is its conflict with the plans surrounding Downtown Anchorage. Upon skimming the PDF's, I found that recommendations go against bollards (or knee-cappers as I call them), and discourage bottleneck intersections -- an area where the sidewalk spills toward the street so as to give pedestrians a narrower road to cross. If you've been to Downtown latley, you know this is what they're all about. The bike planners concede however that with speeds in downtown at around 25 mph (and possibly down to 20 mph if downtown planners have it their way), it's better off for bikers to share the roads with vehicles rather than have a dedicated bicycle lane. According to the map though, 9th Avenue along the Park Strip would get a bicycle lane along with Cordova. In the end I'm satisfied with the compromise for Downtown as it is indeed a unique area planning wise.
Anchorage Bicycle Plan
Proposed Bicycle Network Map
Friday, April 24, 2009
I talked about this earlier, but now it's actually happening. The intersection of West 40th Avenue and Arctic Blvd is just that -- an actual intersection. Installed right in front of the fairly new Alutiiq Plaza, its best to guess the stop lights that are putting a break to the long 40 mph stretch of Arctic are being added to accommodate the growing workforce that head over to Plaza 36 during the workday where the new JL Tower, Alutiiq Plaza, ASRC building, Centerpoint Financial Center, and coming soon -- CenterPoint West are all located. Before Alutiiq Plaza (seen on the above picture) was built, this portion of W. 40th Avenue didn't even exist; but my have times changed. From what I can recall, this is the second newest stoplight intersection to spring up on an existing road in Midtown in the last couple of years. The way I see it, the more breaks we put to these long stretches of roads, the better as Midtown transitions from suburban outpost to the new city center of Anchorage.
Another good thing about this new intersection -- maybe now motorists previously zooming by will actually notice the unique looking Alutiiq Plaza when stopped at the light.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
- Construct Facility Improvements with ADA access and other upgrades to existing bus stops and transit facilities ($207,000).
- Replace and upgrade data processing hardware to improve efficiency, accuracy, timeliness and inventory control ($30,000).
- Replace major bus components, acquire Smart Card fare boxes and upgrade operating systems ($101,000).
The Smart Card acquisition is an interesting one which I had not heard about till now. Besides the above, Prop 6 will also replace cardiac monitors on ambulences and fire trucks as replacement parts for current systems are no longer manufactured. BTW as noted by a reader in my previous entry, the rest of the bonds supplied by the Muni and school district took a beating by voters (except road bonds of course) including Prop 5 which involved funding to reconstruct the entrance of the main library.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
As everyone knows by now what with all the illegally placed campaign signs lining up the roads across town, everyone and their mother will be on this Tuesdays ballot for mayor. But the mayoral race isn't all that is up for vote next week. Besides our 1600 candidates running for City Hall, Prop 5 for library funding is among the more interesting props up for vote. Besides proposing a new library branch for Downtown (which is awesome), the proposition also seeks funding to totally redo the entrance of the Loussac Library. Gone would be the stairs, the skybridge connecting to the Alaska Collection, and the drive through/drop off. In place of the stairs would be a ground level atrium with a large curtain of glass smartly facing towards the south while the road that goes through the library will no longer connect to Denali but would instead become a circular drop off surrounded by a new plaza that better links the library to the fountain.
Renderings of the new library proposals (PDF)
As for my mayoral predictions, this Tuesday will only be the filtering of the candidates. Failing to reach the 45% threshold, expect Croft and Sullivan signs to remain.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Just like the two previous summers, this summer will see more steel rise into the air over Anchorage. This year, CenterPoint West, off of 36th Avenue & CenterPoint Drive, will rise eight stories into the air next to the JL Tower -- roughly about the same height as the new Dena'ina Center in Downtown. Architecturally, the rendering of the building looks like something from the 1980s, but I suspect this is nothing more than a largley inaccurate artist rendition which is quite common when looking at other buildings in town and how different they look from their original rendering. A 360 space parking garage will be built west of the building, which only makes sense considering I didn't think the people at JL Properties would be able to fit another office building into the sea of asphalt which already gets filled to near capacity with cars during the work day. By the way, in order to handle the growing amount of work force heading to the area, it appears an intersection complete with stoplights will sprout up on the stretch of Arctic Blvd between 36th and Tudor in front of the also newly built Alutiiq Plaza. More good news, I think as we have too many long stretches of roads in Midtown that could use interuptions to tame and slow traffic down.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
That's the name of the book by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, which four years since being published is seeing its influence filter into the policies of some American cities, most notably San Francisco. Shoup argues about the misuse of valuable real estate that is given away as "free" parking which causes a cycle that starts with subsidizing parking, promoting driving / decreasing transit ridership, laying more asphalt for expansion, and repeat -- ultimatley winding up with us asking why our cities are so anti-pedestrian friendly and ugly. Anyways InTransition just published a great article on this subject and how some cities are looking at the solutions provided in Shoup's book so as to combat the problem of excess parking.
InTransiton: Putting Parking into Reverse
Saturday, March 7, 2009
The new Tikahtnu Commons continues to slowly but surely shape up as more of the retail stores announced to be in the new development start to put up their signage while doing finishing touches inside. Major retail anchors include Target (open since last Oct), Best Buy, Sports Authority, Kohls, and Lowes along with I think Regal Cinemas. I recall that the developers behind Tikahtnu promised that small local businesses will also have a presense in the new sprawl-mall, but so far the only "small" businesses I'm noticing are Gamestop, and Hard Slab Creamery. The latter I never heard of, but according to the googles, Hard Slab Creamery is a nationwide franchise... of ice cream, I would imagine.
But really, I've got to give it to these developers. From the way they sold the project, you'd be convinced that the CIRI backed Tikahtnu Commons would be a progressive "town center" like project with a mix of retail, offices, and other uses in a compact aesthetically pleasing area that would rival the also now disasterous Glenn Square across from the Northway Mall. Instead Tikahtnu Commons is turning out to be a case of a slow and ugly car wreck that in true rubbernecker spirit, we can't help but to keep tabs on and watch as this thing goes further down the incinerator. If this development is suppose to be as trendy as the developers have been touting for a while, then the 5th Avenue Mall in Downtown must be lightyears ahead when it comes to its progressive utilization of smaller space. Instead of coming from the 21st Century, Tikahtnu Commons is a sprawl of retail that comes to us freshly from the year 1959 when gas was cheap, land was plenty, and environmental concerns were non-existent.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Anyways fast forward to today and Mr. Claman meets with UAA students in charge of a climate change panel that crafted a report on how the city should best take on the crisis of climate change. According to KTUU, one of the recommendations that was made is to "fully fund and expand the People Mover bus service as outlined in the city's long-range transportation plan". Ouch! It is indeed true though that the citys transportation plan is consistant with this recommendation as is Title 21 and its design codes that presume better bus services to conform with its rewritten standards.
...Clamans cuts to the People Mover are expected to remain..
Sunday, February 15, 2009
click to view larger:
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Obama's mention of urban sprawl and the need for investment in public transportation occured yesterday at the town hall meeting in Fort Meyers, Florida by the way. A transcript in fuller context is available here thanks to the Transportation for America interest site.
I expect sprawl to continue on; it ain't going away like that. But as we head into the 21st century with the urgent need to break away with the direction our country had previously gone on a variety of issues, the issues of sustainability both economically and environmentally will prove very challenging to the post-WWII/1950s era of city planning that took place during what was then a totally different country with a different outlook.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
If I were in charge of the redevelopment, this is what I would do. Give incentives for basic-need businesses (groceries, banks, coffeeshops, etc) to open up and cater to the workforce in the area as well as rezone land to intice developers to build medium to high density residential buildings that would house the businesses at ground level. This way even without the areas workforce present during weekends, businesses and the neighborhood in general can depend on its new residents to keep the place alive rather than depend on the three-month-a-year tourist. You've probably noticed this with 4th Avenue in Downtown during the winter as well. The place has been taken hostage by tourists since its reincarnation in the 80s and as a result, a very active street in the summer becomes a ghost town during winter, except for say Fur Rondy and the Iditarod.
Ironically if you've already seen the photos I linked of Java Island, you probably are left wondering where all the people are. I wonder that too, but I don't know the time of day, or day of the week when those photos were taken nor other variables that may or may not make the place seem dead. Whatever the case, I do think what we're seeing in Amsterdam is a smart way to make efficient use of land that happens to be available. Apparently demand for marine related industry is not high enough as the demand for residential space (which I suppose is understandable as the whole medieval city center of Amsterdam is thankfully under strict preservation and protection from new construction). BTW, work is under way on restoring an old building owned by the Alaska Railroad in Ship Creek with the hopes of turning it into office space. Our fingers will be kept crossed.
Friday, February 6, 2009
read story here (ADN)
In the meantime if you've been in the area, you can drive the twisty roads of the barren subdivision like it's one of those Formula-1 or LeMans Grand Prix road courses... it's pretty cool.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Please note that these are completed projects of 2008 that I'm reviewing, so the new museum, Clark Middle School, and other projects still in the works are not listed. Also be aware that I'm only speaking for myself when judging the appearance of these new buildings. This is not some prestigious architectural journal (you should know better by now).
Dena'ina Convention & Civic Center - grade: 7.5
Probably the most high profile project in Anchorage during this decade, the new convention center is an amazing, but controversial building standing in Downtown across from City Hall. I personally would overall give the Dena'ina my tip of the hat for not looking like the Egan Center just for starters. Seriously though, what I like about this new building is the huge and dramatic facade of glass that overtakes 7th Avenue. At night when the lobby is lit for an event, the front of the building from City Hall looks almost like an ant farm as you can see people going up, down, and walking across on all levels of the building. It's almost like peeling a wall to see the activity inside. The problem a lot of people have of course is not with the front facade of the building, but rather the exterior on the other three sides which some say looks like a warehouse. I too would have to say it took some adjusting for me to get used to the exterior on the other three sides, but I do think such a blankness to the building will allow for a more smoother aging compared to the Performance Arts Center which tries so hard with its architecture and decorations that 20 years later, the building is a bit awkward (I'll always have a place in my heart for the rings with dancing lights though). Speaking of the PAC, I would have to say that in contrast, the Dena'ina is all about transparency. Besides the front facade dramatically exposing all the activites going on at all levels of the lobby, the front white exterior has kind of a glow to it. It's almost like some of Apple's latest products over the last few years with that white-below-the-glass sensation happening. Take this Apple mouse for example. The PAC on the other hand looks like a concrete castle with something to hide inside. At least the PAC was built with room for street level retail. The Dena'ina on the other hand does not.
Linny Pacillo Parking Garage - grade: 6.3
Shortly after the Dena'ina Center broke ground, the surface lot that sits diagonal from the convention center site became the footprint for the Pacillo Parking Garage to makeup for lost space that the Dena'ina Center took away from Atwood Building employees. The garage has eight levels of parking, room for retail at the ground floor, and if you haven't noticed, some progressive modernist architecture. To put it in another way, "it looks like something from Germany" as one friend put it. Indeed while other new garages at Providence Hospital, the Native hospital, and around Midtown look like your textbook concrete structure, the Pacillo Garage clearly took a departure, and I'm so glad they did. For its high profile location, if we're going to get yet another parking garage, it better be something that's worth looking at. The retail level however is somewhat of a disappointment as it's hard to notice that there's a Northrim Bank at one end while the rest of the ground level sits tucked away beneath a very unfriendly gray arcade. Overall, I think the garage deserves a 6.3. While the garage fills a critical need and displays fresh architecture, it's still a parking garage. Not the most flattering type of building especially when sitting across the street from another parking garage. Hopefully the garage will soon see more life as Channel 2 KTUU reported last year that the owner of Glacier Brewhouse plans to open up another restaurant in one of the vacant spaces on the ground level. Cross your fingers.
Rising at 14 stories above Midtown, the JL Tower is one of the two new high rise buildings to go up in the city for the first time since the beginning of this decade. The JL Tower, which was constructed by (surprise!) JL Properties is one of the few other office buildings that went up in the former trailer park neighborhood now dubbed 'Plaza 36'. Architecturally, the JL provides a nice break from previous high rises as the building features a smooth curve starting from the base that bows and reaches to the top making it look as if there's an organic curved box partly trapped in a L shape rigid box that breaks free at the top. If you hadn't noticed yet, the tower offers a pretty sight at night as the mechanical penthouse of the building displays an impressive 360 degree wrapped light show made up of hundreds of LED light diodes. Sadly, the unique looking JL Tower sits quietly far away from busy C Street and 36th Avenue. The building could have served as a can't-miss visual anchor that would help define either or both of the two streets, but instead the tower acts like a low profile suburban office park as it sits in the middle of landscaping and a series of surface parking lots that put together could rival the Sullivan Arena parking lot. Speaking of which, the amount of landscaping and surface parking surrounding the building makes it clear that efficient use of land was not a top priority for the developers. I'm kind of surprised they even bothered to strive for LEED certification. Still though, not a bad tower at all.
188 West Northern Lights - grade: 8.8
Not too far north of the JL Tower, also in Midtown, 2008 saw the completion of another high rise tower officially known as 188 West Northern Lights. While the JL Tower had more in common with office developments around Midtown during these last few decades, 188 WNL is a revolutionary building for the central part of town. Unlike its nearby neighbors, 188 WNL has no surface parking, is built right up to the street, uses already developed land, and is mixed-use as it offers space for retail at ground level. All music to the ears of the backers of Title 21, the city's new zoning codes currently under review by the Assembly to acheive the goals of the Anchorage 2020 plan. With this sustainable and flexible layout, I expect the building to better weather the eventual urban densification of Midtown and the rest of the Bowl as developable land continues to shrink and compact urban infill continues to become a more attractive option as it has in other cities around the nation. While this new building shows off the best in civic responsibility, I think the post-modernist architecture of 188 WNL is more 'fun' to look at as it is more fresh and unpredictable in shape and lines compared to the JL Tower which I feel tries a bit too hard to please a more broad audience. If there is to be one thing that I have to whine about with this building, it's the ridiculous rocks that were molded into the sidewalks fronting the building. It looks like a redneck version of the post 9/11 barricade filled sidewalk surrounding the FBI headquarters Downtown. My wag of the finger for that.
Over to Mountain View, though still partly under construction, I thought I'd consider this a largely finished project since all of the anchor stores are now open. All that is really left are three "pads" in the middle of the parking lot that are left for future development along with vacant spaces for small businesses, and if correct, I believe Century Theaters is looking at opening a theater here -- not 100% sure though. What I like about this development is its attempt at integrating mixed-uses into one area. Besides retail, future expansion foresees office space in the area as well as residential properties. What I don't like is the not so exciting presence of big box retailers (and boring ones too) such as Michael's, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Famous Footware. Seriously, to think that Mayor Begich even bothered to make a press release about the arrival of ...Bed Bath & Beyond. Sweet jesus that was embaressing for us. I know that we Alaskans go gaga for the arrival of the most mundane of chain stores, but now we're just scratching the bottom of the rusty tub. To get to the point though, the presence of these big box stores has me left scratching my head about this whole city backed plan to revive Mountain View. We're bringing back Mountain View by opening lower-48 chain stores whose profits return to their headquarters in the lower-48? Of course the Texas based developers behind Glenn Square claim to be helping in revitalizing the neighborhood with their new shopping mall, but it sounds more like an excuse to justify capitalizing on an incredibly rare large piece of empty land that was sold by the city. Anyways I'm starting to wander off -- back to the mall itself. Architecturally, there is nothing really to say. It's a Disneyland of lets-pretend/feel-good design. The clock tower specifically is a nauseating structure that appears to have the intent on insulting our intelligence. Are we suppose to fall over ourselves and be lured to shop there because it looks like one of those cozy minature christmas towns? I appreciate the effort in doing something unique, but I'll have to rate Glenn Square slightly less than a 5. Hopefully added residential and office space will one day redeem the Square.
Onto some smaller projects that were completed in 2008:
4211 Mountain View Drive - grade: 8.2I like. Residential on top, room for retail on bottom. Looks a little too much like it was built overnight with prefab walls though. But overall, it's a fun looking little building that serves for the better in enhancing the aesthetics of the streetscape for Mountain View.
If this new store caters to our Duchess, where's the place for our Duke? Anyways, this new building located at Arctic and C Street makes for quite an interesting addition to the landscape in our grand dukedom. Just to be sure that you don't miss it, the building is painted entirley in hot pink and looks like a cross between a Ziggaraut and a Victorian era mansion. Victorian steel gates gaurd the parking lot from those unwanted filthy peasants. Though I think this building is a welcome addition in comparison to its neighbors, I think the Germanic tribe still overtake the Duchess down the street with their German immersion school which involved the remodeling of an industrial building and converting it into a sleek piece of property with soft shades of gray on its exterior as well as transparent orange paneling that lights at night. For that building (which re-opened in 2007), I would rate its exterior remodeling an 8.0 perhaps.
The Sockeye Inn - grade: 5.8
Not much to say other than it looks okay. I suppose the fish scale facade of the building has something to do with why the business occupying the building was named "Sockeye". Glad to see the building taking up the street corner with the parking lot in the rear rather than tucking the building away from the street. Also glad to see the used car lot bulldozed to make way for this hotel.