Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mountain View development coming along

I was in the Mountain View neighborhood the other day doing some last minute Christmas shopping at Glenn Square when I saw nearby that the new development site in Mountain View is quickly taking shape. Announced roughly at this time one year ago in late 2013, the site is being developed by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation as a mixed-use site that will house 70 mixed-income units (similar to Loussac Place). It's being billed as a mixed-use site, however it looks like commercial development is expected to come at a later date -- and even then it doesn't sound like a guarantee, but who knows. Whatever the case, new housing, especially low income housing, is welcoming news considering the situation Anchorage is in. Friends of Refugees, a national watchdog group, noted a couple years ago that refugee assistance services in Anchorage were no longer able to accept families of more than six due to the lack of available housing. For the normal market as well, times are tough as vacancy rates are low while costs soar. It is also good to see this development going up in Mountain View. Unlike Loussac Place, this site is located in easy walking distance to a variety of businesses including restaurants, a bank, library, and grocery store. The Arctic Urbanophile also did a piece on the neighborhood's great potential. On a side note, it turns out that the Cook Inlet Housing Authority, which also invests in Mountain View, won the 2014 HUD Secretary's Opportunity and Empowerment Award for its success in turning the neighborhood around. Senator Begich and then HUD secretary Shaun Donovan toured Mountain View this summer. Also, for whatever reason, the hud.gov site keeps referring to Mountain View as "Mountain View Village". Umm.. I don't know why.

artist sketch on how it will look like
as it appears now

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Downtown surface lots expected to see development

A congressional bill expected to be signed by President Obama includes a provision that allows the Municipality to sell five parcels of land in Downtown Anchorage that previously had restrictions placed on them. This includes the land beneath the Egan Convention Center on 5th and E, which formerly was only allowed to be used for civic purposes. The ADN has an article on the story today in which mayor Sullivan pointed to the nearby Anchorage Marriott tower and noted that a development such as that would be possible on the lots being sold by the city. Three of the lots to be sold are in the area of 7th and I Street, which as you may know is in bad need of development as it is currently overrun by surface parking lots. Once upon a time these asphalt blocks had small cottages with gardens and lawns, but while a few remain today, much of the neighborhood was knocked out during the oil boom years of the 1970s and 80s causing much uproar among Anchorageites and prompting historical preservation. Anyways, for at least the last decade I have imagined a better Downtown Anchorage in which the empty blocks on the western end of the townsite are filled with five or six story apartment/condo blocks with commercial retail on the ground floor facing the street. The Lofts, formerly a hotel on 4th Avenue that was converted to appeal to young professionals, is testament to the fact that there is a market for downtown living, and it's pretty obvious that a good unit in a good building in the heart of downtown is rare. You can live along the edges of the downtown townsite, such as Bootleggers Cove, South Addition, or Government Hill, but finding a living arrangement within the townsite bounded by 9th Avenue to the south, L Street to the west, 3rd Avenue to the north, and C Street to the east is quite difficult. Three years ago when I was in Antwerp, Belgium, I took this photo of residential buildings that I thought were a good example of what I'd like to see in west downtown. Finally I have an excuse to use this photo xP

taken in Antwerp, Belgium. Great city btw, worth a visit

Monday, September 22, 2014

Alaska gets its first mosque

Islamic Community Center of Anchorage

This one apparently escaped my radar for some time now, but work is still underway on what will be Alaska's first mosque, known officially as the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage. When I first heard that this building will secure the title as Alaska's first mosque, I was a bit confused as I thought there was already a place of worship in our city. Turns out there is -- but it's in a crammed rented space in a strip mall. This will be the first purpose-built house of worship which at 15,000 sq. feet will have heated floors for worship during the winter and separate areas for men and women. What's particularly cool is that the mosque will indeed have minarets. You can see more pictures as well as video that shows the various planned phases for construction of the mosque at the mosque's official website. While this construction project flew over my head, it did receive the attention of various outside sources including the Wall Street Journal. My favorite coverage comes from the blog 30 Mosques which does a great job putting a human face on the congregation. One source claims the Islamic community in Anchorage to be at around 2,000. As a result, funding for the project has taken quite some time, and the congregation is still asking for donations to complete the work.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Loussac secures funding, renovation gets the green light

RIM Architects rendering

Local media is reporting that the Loussac Library in Midtown will go forward with renovation construction in the spring of 2015 thanks in part to a $10 million grant from the Alaska Legislature made during the recent session. Combined with other funds, the library has $15 million total to make the project go forward. Staff at the library have been seeking since 2007 to replace the elevated plaza due to the treacherous stairs that get icy in the winter. I've known their concerns myself for I had previously talked about this back in 2009. Besides eradicating the elevated space, another desire was to get rid of the road that goes through the library (and for which the plaza acted as a bridge so people didn't have to cross the road). Without an elevated space, I think it makes sense to lose the thru-road. You may have remembered that the library had its renovation project on the ballot in this April's election, however the prop lost by a razor thin margin. Many blame the fact that the library's renovation wishes shared the same prop which also called for a new Mulchahey Stadium and improvements to the city's golf course in South Anchorage. Not many were sympathetic to a new baseball stadium and better golf course, and for that, I don't blame voters. Here's a short list of the new features to come with the renovation.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mixed use site gets a parking lot

Turnagain Crossing

[you can see a news report on this here]
For those not familiar, in 2013 construction started on the corner of Turnagain Drive and Northern Lights in West Anchorage on a mixed use site known as Turnagain Crossing. Yes, I did write "mixed use site". It's not often you hear about such developments taking place in this city, but the developers behind Turnagain Crossing managed to jump through all sorts of hoops and hurdles in order to get their proposal approved by the city. They persevered and we now have a wonderful compact site that houses the Kaladi owned Rustic Goat Restaurant along with a handful of condo units nearby. I wouldn't actually say its so much "mixed use" as its merely two buildings of different uses that just happen to be sitting on the same lot. Mixed use is a term usually given to a single building that has different uses within that building (ie restaurant, hotel, office, all in one). For that, Anchorage actually does have a handful of such buildings. But Turnagain Crossing nonetheless has been given that label by the media due to its unique configuration that required changing the zoning of the empty lot from single use to multi-use and all the hassle that came with it. What's ground breaking is that the minimum parking requirements that developers are ordinarily obligated to follow were waived for this site. This is not too uncommon in the Lower 48 as urban planning continues its shift toward focusing on livability and walkability as opposed to automobile socialism. The idea was that this site wouldn't attract so many cars anyways as the development is suppose to cater to just the neighborhood, much like Fireweed Bakery in Downtown's South Addition neighborhood.

Sadly things have not proven to be as idealistic as expected. The popularity of the Rustic Goat, again intended as a corner neighborhood pub-like place, has meant that the streets of the surrounding neighborhood have been filled with cars parallel parking in what is already a narrow street that has no sidewalks. I live near it and every time I drive past it in the evening, I see the pack of cars and cringe knowing that some in the Assembly may be thinking "see, we gave this experiment a chance and it didn't work". In July the Assembly gave the developers the green light to go ahead and build a 28 space parking lot across the street on city park land. Many neighbors however were outraged at the lack of notice with regards to there being a discussion about this without their input. As a result the Assembly rescheduled its discussion and re-took a vote this past Tuesday after hearing from the testimonies of many area residents. Again, the Assembly gave the go ahead for the construction of a parking lot with the owners paying $8,000 per month to the city. In the end, it's sad that park land had to be taken away for a parking lot, but I'm not surprised. Seeing the parking situation, I knew something had to give.

At least we know the folks in the condo units next door won't have an issue with parking at the restaurant.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer in the City - Construction Rundown

CIRI headquarters

Here's the annual summer construction rundown. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, we will not see anything major going up like we had in summers past. We will however see more activity than we had in previous years. And if like me, you too lived in Anchorage through the 90s, then you too are probably grateful that at least we're getting some construction action. In fact, I think this may be the most busiest summer since the start of the 2010s decade. I suppose I should clarify that when I refer to construction projects in town, I'm thinking of major ones. If it involves steel girders hoisted into the air by cranes and multiple levels going up, then I am more inclined to record them on this blog. I'm also open to recording smaller residential projects that are unique in their handling of land-use and density. I am fully aware that every year the city gets the obligatory new fast food restaurant or big box store, but I'm not so eager to capture those things as I may have been in years past.
The most major of building construction taking place this summer is the eight story headquarters for the CIRI native corporation. CIRI has attained quite a high profile in recent times with their opening of the Tikhatnu Commons, and the erection of wind turbines on Fire Island, both of which are recorded on the blog. Now CIRI has acquired the site formally occupied by the Fireweed Theater and is in the process of building a new hq for itself. Apparently the master plan is to fill the former theater site with other office buildings, perhaps mirroring the Centerpoint development in south Midtown which sprang out of a trailer park neighborhood back in 2000. You can find more on the building along with a hokey PR video and live webcam here. Architecturally, I love the glass façade it's to have. It reminds me of the new U.S. Federal Building in San Francisco. ...Okay, kind of. The building will also have great visibility for it will be in the view of motorists going north on the Seward Highway.

UAA Engineering Building
 Nearing completion in the U-Med district is the UAA School of Engineering building. Construction on it began last summer, but it is now that the project has really took to the air. Built across the street from the new nursing building, there is a proposal floating around to connect the two buildings with a skybridge hanging over Providence Drive. Additionally, because the new building sits on a former parking lot on campus, the university is planning construction of a parking garage across the street (another reason for said skybridge). As far as I can tell though, the world has not ended as some faculty and students had expected with the loss of so many parking spaces. This building is the latest in a series of projects that have made some U-Med lovers uncomfortable when it comes to the districts changing identity. In fact, one block from this site, construction of a new First National Bank branch has seen the clearing of a sizeable patch of woods.

Alaska Airlines Center
                                                                            Speaking of which, we also have the Alaska Airlines Center. Construction of the arena started in 2012 and it is expected to open later this year. This was probably the most traumatic of projects in the U-Med for a large swath of forest across the street from Providence Hospital was mowed down for this building. The most notable controversy however is the fact that the Alaska Airlines Center will not have an ice rink. UAA Hockey is the premiere sport of the university. I suppose to make up for that though, it was recently announced that a year-around restaurant will open in the arena, complete with an outdoor deck. Breaking from traditional university policy, alcohol will be served in the restaurant -- surely to the joy of students in the nearby dorms. Architecturally, I don't know what to say. It's not all that great looking... One thing I like about it though is that there will be a grand pathway leading to the building from the street side. It's not all about catering to those with cars.
building with no name

                      Finally, there's this. It's no 188 WNL, JL Tower, or Centerpoint West. It's just a class A office building for lease. Gracing the building with a name was not a priority. It is a nice looking building though. It's located in an awkward spot along C Street but without access from C Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                               So there are your urban contributions to the mishmash cityscape of Anchorage, Alaska for the summer of 2014. While it's great to see a small handful of medium to high density sites go up, it is also disheartening to see the pattern continue of buildings surrounded by parking lots and landscaping. Whether it's the new CIRI headquarters, or the building mentioned just above, a vision of the future with sustainability in mind is absent. In a city that is post Title 21 Rewrite, most developers can't shake off the Le Corbusier in them. For me, the most promising building is the UAA School of Engineering for it is built up against the street and has a bus stop at the foot of it (you can see it in the picture). It's also nice that the Alaska Airlines Center is across the street from People Mover's U-Med bus hub. As a result, six bus lines will be going to the arena.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Legislature Building remodel takes shape

I was downtown today and just thought I'd snap a pic of the new façade going up on the western side of the Alaska Legislature building on 4th Avenue. This is the culmination after years in which the legislature looked around for a new place to do business. Eventually they settled on staying in their current digs but not without an extensive remodel. Originally the Interstate Bank building when it opened in the 1970s, the original façade had no windows. Later on some windows were punctured through, but they appeared more like peep-holes in the overwhelming concrete wall. In addition to the current remodel of the six story high-rise, the former Empress Theater next door was demolished so as to expand the footprint of the tower. Not many people realize that the Empress Theater building still existed for its original façade was replaced when the theater gave way to becoming a bank. Mark Pfeffer, the developer overseeing the project, wants to utilize a piece of the old theater in the remodeled building. LaBomba Shelter blog has great coverage on the fate and history of the old Empress Theater. I encourage you to check it out.

I suspect that the reason the original façade had no windows was because the developers of the building assumed that it would not be long before their new high-rise would be sandwiched between two other buildings of good height. With high-rises sprouting allover in late 60s/early 70s downtown (and midtown), it was inevitable, they may have reasoned, that high-rises would show up on 4th Avenue. In a way, this is kind of sad for the new glass curtain gives nod to the fact that any building of measureable height will not be built on the neighboring parking lot. I'm not saying I necessarily want high-rises, I think they're out of scale for 4th Avenue. But any building on that parking lot would be nice. Way back in the day, a three story building sat on the site of the present day parking lot.

While I'm at it, here's a look at another pipeline era building that recently got a face lift. Built in the 1970s, 909 Ninth Avenue once housed Union, then Unocal, and then Chevron in the later 2000s before being restored to host its new main tenant, NANA Corporation. I was most especially happy to see the building stripped of its gold tinted windows. Interestingly, the state legislature was looking at this building as a possible site for re-location before the deal fell through

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Low-rise for 36th Avenue (maybe)

Summer has returned (as have I), which means that another construction season is upon us. While this will not be a truly awesome summer like that of 2008 when Midtown saw the simultaneous construction of two 14-story towers, or the even more awesome summer of 1983 which saw two 20+ story towers go up in Downtown, this summer at least looks to be better than some of our more recent ones. It may not be much, but for what it's worth, CIRI is building a new eight story low-rise on the former site of the Fireweed Theater (newsflash to my outside readers: the Fireweed Theater was demolished) on the corner of Fireweed and New Seward. On the opposite boundary of Midtown there is currently a four story office building going up just south of the newish Anchorage Neighborhood Clinic on C Street. Now it appears that Pfeffer Development, which built two one-story buildings along 36th Avenue (you know, the ones housing Pita Pit, and ACS, among other things), may be getting ready to wedge in a five story low-rise between them. I cannot say for sure that this will be built for it may depend on whether Pfeffer can secure tenants, but from what I've gathered, the building will be called the AIDEA Building. A quick googling shows that AIDEA stands for Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. So there ya go.

Architecturally, the building looks good. It kinda reminds me of 188 WNL, which of course is a good thing. Now if only it had ground floor retail like 188, but you probably knew I was going to moan about that! The good thing is the building is proposed to line up against 36th Avenue with only a strip of landscaping separating the building from the sidewalk. This would run consistent with Pfeffer's other buildings on 36th which also come close to the sidewalk. In its immediate vicinity, this will be the "tallest" building as the nearby Tatitlek Corp. building and Denali Alaskan headquarters are each four stories. Again, just because these renderings are floating around does not mean it will be built. Keep in mind that Pfeffer was behind the Augustine Energy Center, a proposed 21 story tower for Downtown that was to be the tallest building in the city but ended up falling through. Six years later, a parking lot continues to sit where the tower was supposed to be. Let's hope its 5-story kid bro pulls through.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Well... this is awkward... Hello there, again. It's been a while... Life came at me fast in 2012 and continues to do so which explains why I've become a phantom in the time since then. Even before 2012 I had a couple of long-term unexplained disappearances which goes to show why a good blogger I do not make for. I started Anchorage Joop six years ago because I could not find any local source that dealt with issues regarding urban development. The Anchorage Daily News and the Alaska Journal of Commerce will sometimes run an article covering a construction project underway, but they never came from the angle of what the project meant in the long run, specifically, what it meant for the community in terms of design and urban integration. I wanted a source that provided commentary critiquing new developments and civic projects as well as the existing built environment around us. Cities such as Washington D.C., and Seattle have such dedicated sources run by committed bloggers. With that in mind, I started this blog despite the fact that I have no professional background in urban planning. I was just a citizen who observed the changes taking place around town. With that, it was to my recent delight that I discovered this newish blog called The Arctic Urbanophile. Though posts on that site go back only to January (when it launched), I found myself spending something like 2 hours in one sitting checking out all these great posts made in the last four months. I later had to come back to read the rest I did not get to during that first visit. Unlike mine, Eric's posts are well written, in-depth with more information than I myself could ever extract, and most of all, articulate. This is the blog we Anchoragites have been waiting for.

As for this blog, I don't know what its future holds. I felt guilty as I watched the new Alaska Airlines Center and the Turnagain Crossing mixed-use site go up while my blog went on without recording it. I did not forget you, dear Joop blog. Sometimes I think about retooling this site into being a even more casual blog in which I just post pictures I took with my phone of what I like and don't like in Anchorage. It especially seems more appropriate now that a site like Arctic Urbanophile exists to take care of the more in-depth coverage. But I'm not sure that will work out for me. I expect to move out of Alaska soon anyways. We'll see...