Friday, September 11, 2009

Downtown Anchorage: Now Complete

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.

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