Friday, December 21, 2012

Spenard adopts 2 lane plan

Spenard Road
Read all about it here. While the ADN refers to the plan as 3 lanes, it's really just two for the center turn lane really shouldn't be counted as a travel lane. For a neighborhood that likes to talk up its progressive credentials as a forward looking neighborhood, it's nice to see Spenard finally join the 21st century. Unlike bohemian neighborhoods in cities in the Lower 48, it's hard to take Spenard seriously when considering that it is surrounded by traffic going at 45 mph while the commercial heart of the hood is a strip mall surrounded by a sea of asphalt that is almost always packed with cars. And to top it off, much of the business community fought hard for many years against making the road safe for bicyclists and pedestrians. 'Embarrassing' would be my word to describe the current state of Spenard. Hopefully this is the start of more dramatic changes to come in the next several years.

btw while we're at it, here's a look back at a quick concept I drew up for Spenard a couple years ago.

Monday, September 3, 2012

909 Ninth Avenue makeover

as it looked this spring
 For those who have not noticed, the old glass curtain of 909 Ninth Ave has come down and been replaced with a more appealing dark blue facade of glass. Work started this spring and finishing touches are currently under way. The building was built in the 1970s and housed Union/Unocal 76, a California oil company, until it merged with Chevron in the mid 2000's for which a Chevron sign adored the top of the building. After Chevron's Anchorage headquarters left the building for the new JL Tower in Midtown a couple years ago, the building had since sat empty. The Alaska State Legislature had taken interest in possibly occupying the building as it (still) looks to leave its small crammed 4th Avenue offices. Of course now former (as of this most recent primary election) state senator Linda Menard had particular interest in seeing the Legislature occupy 909 Ninth for she happens to own property right across the street from the building (which explains why that property had long displayed [and still displays] a Linda Menard sign despite the fact that her district is way out in the Valley). Now it appears that the NANA corporation will be taking over as the main tenant for which they have apparently decided that their new digs needs an update. And thank goodness for that. I had long thought that the gold tinted glass needed to come down as it just screams corporate 1980s Trump-esque glam.
artist rendering of the new facade

facade change earlier this summer

Monday, August 13, 2012

Juneau's zoning changes to beef up density

This is very impressive news coming out of Juneau. Juneau's Assembly and Planning Commission are very much ahead of the curve here. From an article by the Juneau Empire:

“People may be surprised,” Chaney said. “Something may go up in their community that they hadn’t anticipated.”

The new code allows for apartments in general commercial and light commercial areas that can be “pretty large,” Chaney said.

However, the new codes and guidelines also mean new opportunity, Chaney said.

The new code smooths the transition from commercial to residential zones and allows for a significant increase in residential density. 


Willoughby developers can also benefit from “significantly reduced parking requirements,” Chaney said. A development’s parking requirements in Willoughby are now 60 percent below less congested areas, he said.

“A large amount of this district is occupied by surfaced parking lots,“ Chaney said.

New apartments and condominiums in the area “won’t have to build a huge parking lot,” Chaney said.

Read more here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fourth Avenue cabin may disappear, along with its 100-year history

Just wanted to forward this ADN article written recently on an old cabin that is under threat of demolition. Seems pretty stupid that the cabin has to be demolished as a condition of the sale of the property, especially with our 100 year anniversary as a city approaching. Last I saw the cabin (this Sunday), it was still there.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Title 21 effects on Anchorage

near Arctic & 36th
For those following the process that Title 21 is going through with the Planning and Zoning Commission, you have every right to feel despair and hopeless. I know I do. 2012 marks ten frickin' years since the Title 21 rewrite initially got underway. And the goals and ideals outlined have since been filtered out, diminished, and in some cases outright eradicated. I understand that there must be compromise and was fine with the way Title 21 looked like by 2010 even with some of the goals and ideals gone. It was a long process, but in the end the public got what it want as did business. Since then however, Title 21 has again been put through scrutiny, this time from the very dishonest and cold hearted Dan Coffey (I call him cold hearted for what he said of the late Allen Tesche at a Tea-bagger meet some time ago). Coffey's recommendations were so outrageous that most of them didn't even get the rubber stamp of approval from his good buddy, the mayor. The recommendations that did survive however have gone on to be reviewed with seemingly no opposition from the Planning and Zoning. And to top it, the PZC has thrown its own classical-liberal weight to the rewrite as the panel of members discussed eliminating the requirement of sidewalk access to commercial buildings, and eliminating the requirement that sidewalks be on both sides of Anchorage streets. I don't follow the process terribly closely, so I don't know if these latest proposals are now set in stone or not. From what I understand, mixed-use districts have definitely been eliminated.

Anyways, I had meant to write just a brief blurb as a lead in to this editorial published in Sundays ADN which is written by two real estate brokers concerning the PZC's latest recommendations for Title 21. The co-authors end their editorial pondering whether future generations will be able to thank us for making Anchorage the way we thought it could be. I can tell you that nobody thanks the planners who ran Anchorage during the last 50 years. Will we be able to correct this? With Anchorage out of land to expand on, the ad hoc mindset we had toward development will have to shift gears toward renewing what we have now and building over it. We are at a pivotal moment for this almost 100 year old city and we can't afford to mess it up.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Trouble at Augustine Tower property

Inlet Inn hotel
Well what do you know, just a week after posting about the Augustine Tower that never was, an article relating to the property that the tower was to be built on has been published. In particular, there is trouble at the Inlet Inn hotel on the corner of 6th and H. For those who have paid attention, trouble at the Inn is hardly a surprise. The numbers published in the article however do tell the story of just how bad it really is over there. The article provides some background information on the developers who own the property and how they had intended for the junky hotel to be non-existent by now and instead be replaced with the 21 story Augustine Energy Center. It looks like my suspicions were right about the economic downturn of 2008 being the reason for the Augustine project's death. The Augustine Energy Center was supposed to be completed in 2010.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Augustine Tower no more

Replacing the image of the proposed tower
Symbolizing the toll that the Great Recession has taken, the lease sign advertising the Augustine Energy Center in Downtown Anchorage has been taken down after four years. It has been replaced with a generic sign from the developer advertising the fact that just about anything can be built on the site now. It is officially the tower that never was. The Augustine Energy Center was to be a 21 story tower built on the corner of 6th and G which is currently a parking lot and formerly the home of the Alaska Experience Theater (as noted in the previous post). In fact it's safe to say the theater was knocked down back in 2007 in anticipation that the tower will soon be built while a surface parking lot would serve as a temporary fix. Those mid-2000's were good economic times after all, but the Augustine Center had the misfortune of having its blueprints drawn on the eve of economic destruction. Now I can't personally say that the economy is the sole reason for Pfeffer Development to pull the proposed tower, but being that this project surfaced in 2008 of all years, c'mon... Augustine Center was not the only project in Downtown to have construction be eminent back in 2008.

artist rendering of the building

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Meanwhile, just down the street...

once a charming cottage, now parking
Construction on the new Covenant House isn't the only activity happening in the Downtown stretch of A Street. A block away, an old cottage on 6th and A that housed a small Russian Orthodox museum in the last decade was recently demolished. Upon noticing the disappearance of the oddly shaped cottage, my excitement kicked in as I fell under the presumption that a new larger building will fill its spot, but I guess I should have known better. Earlier this week the site was paved and yellow parking lines were added :(  This is at least the 6th building in Downtown Anchorage to be demolished for parking in the last 5 years. Among the more famous buildings to be demolished since 2007 were the Alaska Experience Theater, and of course, Wings n' Things, which sat at the corner of I and 6th and was a chicken wings institution for decades before its sudden closure which left many fans baffled. It's embarrassing that we demolish buildings that house people so we can have a place to house machines. Not to get deep, but the destruction of the cottage for parking is a sad commentary on where our priorities are when it comes to urban planning. I'd much rather we kept the cottage...
at the corner of 4th and A

But all is not lost! Three blocks down, again on A Street, a lease sign showing a classy upscale building has been placed on what has long been an empty site across from Fire Station 1 on 4th Avenue. The sign is a little confusing though as the artist rendering shows the buildings length going down A Street, which does not make sense. The top half of the block is already occupied by a building while the bottom half, which runs along 4th Avenue, is empty and for which I would assume the new building would be placed. In other words, that should say 4th Avenue rather than A Street. But whatever the minor mistake, in the end, I love this building. A number of signs have been posted throughout Anchorage in the past showing exciting new buildings only for them not to materialize -- I really hope this building avoids becoming another statistic and instead becomes a reality.

6th and A, before it was parking

rendering of what may be built on 4th and A

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Covenant House - East Downtown

As seen from the corner of 8th and A.
I drive down A Street into Downtown Anchorage on a regular basis and thus immediately noticed the demolition of an old Salvation Army chapel and the erection of a sign showing a rendering of what was to be built in its place. Going at 35 mph, it's kinda hard to read what exactly was being built, but the quick glance I was able to get of the building made me think maybe it was new office space. A few days later I walked up to the sign to get an actual reading of what was going up only to learn of the grim news. Yes, Covenant House, the shelter for homeless runaway youth, is at full capacity and needs a new, larger home. Like the Neighborhood Clinic being built in Midtown (see earlier post), the new Covenant House apparently also needs more financial donations ($2M more) in order for the project to meet its completion. Among the top contributors so far for the project is First National Bank Alaska, the Gillam Foundation, and the Rasmuson Foundation. In seeking continued financial support, Covenant House has also launched a campaign called Our House is Full along with the website Construction is taking place on the block bordered by A Street, Barrow Street, 7th, and 8th Avenue. If there's any bright spot to this new development, it's that the Covenant House will be located away from the more healthier west-end of Downtown. It seems over the years Town Square Park has become a haven for troubled youth, and it's safe to say that the location of the Covenant House right across the street from the park was a major factor in contributing to the erosion of the parks attractiveness. We'll be following up on this project as it continues its progress.

Demolition of the old building.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Seward Highway reconstruction begins

The good news: the Seward Highway will be elevated just enough for the Campbell Creek Trail to actually go under the bridge. The 'meh' news: the highway will be widened from four lanes to six starting at Tudor and going south to Dowling. Only those who get the most out of short-term relief will greet the latter as great news. For those who know better, the Law of Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion will come into play. The new lanes will indeed bring relief to rush hour traffic, but only briefly. As stated by the law, new roads and more lanes will only encourage those who had second thoughts about taking the highway on their commute to use it and thus quickly fill up the new space the extra lanes provide. Once upon a time the New Seward Highway (as it's called within Anchorage city limits) was the drivers savior from the Old Seward Highway. Gone were the frequent stoplights and low speed limit and in was an expanse of road in which stoplights were absent and drivers can breeze by at 65 mph into Midtown. Today the traffic on the Seward Highway literally comes to a complete standstill at times during rush hour (as it does on the Glenn Highway) and cries are made by commuters for more lanes. The cycle will only repeat down the road. But hey, lets focus on the good news! As one of two major east-west trails crossing town, Campbell Creek Trail will finally have its missing link added. Besides adding extra lanes, the highway along with its frontage roads will be raised to provide 10 feet underneath of lighted pathway. Currently, bikers have to duck under a clearance of 5 feet and skirt along the creek. All told, this two year project will have a price tag of 40 million. Check out the ADN article for yourself. There's a lively discussion in the comments section below the article too.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

For the Love of Anchorage

Peter Kageyama, author of the book "For the Love of Cities", visited Anchorage and spoke to an AEDC workshop earlier this year about how ordinary citizens can take steps to make their city a truly great place. His lecture was recorded for the KSKA program 'Addressing Alaskans', which can now be heard online. Kageyama notes that making a city appealing through lower taxes and such is only a one dimensional approach and that more has to be done if it is to catch the eye of investors and others who are considering calling Anchorage home. An approach that is all encompassing and gives high priority to place making, walkability, bicycle friendliness, and civic engagement, among other things, are key to the well-being of a city both economically and socially. I want to thank Kristin Spack of KSKA for her quick response when I contacted her about the podcast of the show not being up on the stations website. It is now up and can be listened to online here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ballfields to be bulldozed for Sullivan parking

Speaking of arena's...

a snippet from the ADN article:

"The two fields closest to 16th Avenue will give way to about 800 new parking spots, adding to the 1,600 the city says are already there. 

A lighted walkway between Mulcahy Stadium and Anchorage Football Stadium will be built to connect the new parking lot to the arena".

Click for larger view

Read more here:

Read more here:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Forest mowed down for new arena

(click to view larger image)
A little over 14 acres of woods just east of Providence Hospital between the UAA and APU campuses was recently mowed down as prep work begins for the new UAA sports arena in East Anchorage. Surviving Governor Parnell's red pen last year, the project isn't without some controversey as the arena will surprisingly not have the ability to convert to a hockey rink for Seawolf hockey -- arguably the most visible and prominent sport among UAA Athletics. What it will have however is a seating capacity of 5,000 (pretty good considering the Sullivan fits a little over 6,000), a separate gym for the gymnastics program, admin/coaching offices, as well as locker and team rooms for just about every sport found in UAA (except hockey). The building will be 196,000 sq.ft. and cost a grand total of $109 million. Here's a video showing how the new arena is expected to look like.

area that has been cleared

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wind turbines arrive in Anchorage

Pieces of wind turbines arrive in la Puerta de Anchorage last weekend from Tianchang, China and are staged nearby until later in the year when they will be sent to nearby Fire Island for the new wind farm being constructed by the CIRI native corporation. Construction should begin this summer and be partly up and running by the end of the year. The wind farm will eventually be made up of 33 wind turbines and provide 144,000 megawatts of juice each  year (or 17,000 households). Since CIRI isn't in the business of public utility, Chugach Electric will buy the power from them in order to provide it to the mainland via under water transmission lines (at least that's how I understand it).

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jerry Prevo wants to build the world's tallest cross in Anchorage

You read it right. Though the idea isn't serious right now, Pastor Jerry Prevo is currently seeking approval from the FAA to build a 230 foot tall cross on his property that would tower over East Anchorage and become purportedly the worlds tallest cross. If built, the cross would be taller than all office buildings in Midtown with only the Anchorage Hilton, ConocoPhillips, and Atwood Building, all in Downtown, being taller.

I personally have a hard time imagining such a structure surviving past planning and zoning at its current height, especially as Prevo's Anchorage Baptist Temple sits in a residential area. A few years ago nearby residents were complaining loudly about the monster cable poles that now run up and down Northern Lights Boulevard toward Muldoon. Most Anchorage residents may be Christian, but you don't want to feel their wrath when you propose a 230-foot pole -- cross or not. Even much shorter cell phone towers spark controversy when they go up in Anchorage neighborhoods. But of course in Dan Coffey's Anchorage, this issue of zoning would be a non-issue and thus the cross would pass the zoning board with flying colors (while skipping the public hearing, of course). Jerry Prevo says he hasn't even looked into whether such a project is feasible, but seeing as how he has plenty of money to throw into the bigoted No on 5 campaign, I'm sure he'll find a way to allocate funding. Seriously, I thought the tale of Big Butter Jesus had already taught us what happens when you make giant  tacky religious icons for your god. And wasn't one of the reasons for the Reformation due to the worship of icons by the Catholic Church? All I can say is that I would be sooo embarrassed for Anchorage if this monstrosity of epic proportions goes up -- especially under the orders of such a hateful man like Jerry Prevo.

Anyways here's the article by Channel 2's Christine Kim:

Anchorage Baptist Temple Plans to Build 230-foot-tall Cross

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Anchorage Highway to Highway Project Delayed

If you have followed the news lately, you might have heard a slew of reports about how the dubious Knik Arm Crossing is being fast tracked by the State and the Anchorage Transportation committee to be on the short list -- meaning top priority --  for which money may very well be gobbled up by the bridge at the expense of more pressing transportation needs for the city in the next couple of decades. Among the projects moved to the back burner is the Highway 2 Highway (H2H) project which would have connected the Seward and Glenn Highways together making for a seamless glide through the city while at the same time restoring the neighborhood of Fairview back to its former glory before two sets of 4 lane roads with heavy traffic tore their selves through the 'hood some 35 years ago. From what I've observed, the project was a bit controversial when it was first brought up, perhaps because it gave some residents a sense of déjà vu of a time in the 1950s and 60s when planners across the country promised that large concrete highways tearing through neighborhoods and old downtown's would be the solution to all of the city's problems. But I've long thought this project in particular was different. If anything, this H2H project would reflect the changes other cities across America have done to their urban highways in the last 20 years or so which is to either dismantle them altogether, or bury them underground. H2H proposes the latter, which is to build the highway on sort of a ditch, or depressed ground, and then "cover" the highway with new real estate that would be used for either parkland or buildings (mixed-use ones too!). Anyways the Anchorage Press did an article this week on the predicament and what solutions may be possible to get the project started sooner. A snippet from the article:

"The project had been listed as a “top priority to contain Anchorage congestion” under the city’s current transportation plan. But in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan 2035, set to be adopted by the Anchorage Assembly in late April, the connecting corridor has turned from shortlist mega project to dream deferred. Now in the long-term list of transportation projects, it’s tentatively slated to begin anywhere from 2024 to 2045".

BTW I'll be back with another post looking at some of the urban highways across America that have either been already dismantled and buried, or are waiting on death row.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Loussac Place construction

Just thought I'd pop by the site of the future Loussac Place going up between C and A Street for some photo updates. As mentioned in an earlier post, Loussac Place will be a compact neighborhood of townhouses replacing the earlier incarnation known as Loussac Manor which was built in the 1960s with 62 units for only low income families. The new Loussac Place will have nearly double the units at 120 with both low income and market rate housing.

Again for comparison sake:

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Years Update

Happy New Years to everyone. I've been wanting to post this article from The Atlantic which covers the topic of how Tea Party members have been wreaking havoc at urban planning meetings across the country. I'm reminded of a similar case here in Anchorage in which the local Tea Party group, led by talk radio host Eddie Burke, held a discussion late last year on how the new Title 21 codes would further suffocate their freedom or whatever. The scary part was that the moronic Dan Coffey was the guest who was in the position of defending the codes. You know you're city's building codes are in trouble when they are defended by... well yeah.

Anyways, I also thought I'd post the latest from the newest project going up in Midtown. Located on C Street near Walmart, this three storey office quickly rose up late in December causing it to just miss my last construction rundown. No tenants have been cited yet. [Update] Yes, we do know the tenants! The building will be occupied by both ReMax and Dynamic Properties. I suppose they will play a location compliment to their next door neighbor Residential Mortgage, which is also in a three story building located a stones throw away.