Sunday, December 13, 2015

Michael Carey on the bus station

Nothing of actual news here, but I just thought I'd share this commentary made by Michael Carey on his observations regarding the downtown transit center (or "bus station" as he correctly points out is the common name), and the people who use it. It's nice to hear from Carey who until now I did not know was still writing for the ADN following its ownership transition. Now if only he would return to hosting Alaska Edition, I'll be very happy.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Downtown transit center facelift unveiled

How the new transit center may look
Andrew Halcro, head of the authority that runs the People Mover Transit Center in Downtown Anchorage, has recently unveiled renderings by RIM Architects of how a remodeled transit center could look like. If you are familiar with the transit center, then you are probably also aware of the troubles that have swamped the place over the last couple decades. The security statistics presented by Halcro are absolutely staggering. Over 5,000 transients are removed by security officers over the course of a year. More than 500 calls are made to police and fire. But what got me was the turnover rate for security guards at the facility. The longest lasting security guard has been there for six months. And it turns out things have only gotten worse since the Inlet Hotel across the street was demolished a year ago. Trouble that had infected that place has moved across the street to the transit center.

Anyways so the plans for the transit center are pretty interesting. The biggest thing to come out of this, at least to me, is the call for a large retail store to occupy most of the first floor. One name that was thrown around was Walgreens, which is being seen as an ideal store for it can provide groceries and pharmacy items in a part of town that severely lacks it. I wonder though whether downtown can sustain a store like that considering we don't really have condos and apartments in the downtown core. I don't think People Mover riders alone would be able to provide the needed traffic for such a store -- not when ridership is only 2%. A natural result of increasing the footprint of retail is the reduction of the indoor waiting area. In an effort to prevent people from loitering (and they do have their problems with non riders lingering for hours), the indoor space will be greatly reduced with an eye toward getting people onto their next bus. Amusingly, another idea tossed around by the authority was that of having an annoying jingle play in a loop on the intercom. It also appears that the name of the transit center itself may change to "City Center". Halcro and Mayor Berkowitz say no tax dollars will be used and that they hope to break ground in a year.

I know this shouldn't mean anything, but I do like to pick apart little tidbits that concern Anchorage trivia. The Alaska Dispatch quoted Halcro as saying the change expected to take place at the transit center will be the most dramatic transformation of a downtown city block since the construction of the 5th Avenue Mall in 1985. So is this the case? Well, no, it is not. What immediately came to my mind was the construction of the Marriott hotel in 1999. Since the 1980s boom, it is the only highrise to be built in downtown during these last 30 years. I think it's safe to say that block got fairly transformed. Going slightly further back, you may recall the clearing of a block on 4th Avenue in 1994 to make way for the Nesbett Courthouse. And how could we forget the triple threat of 2008 -- the Dena'ina Convention Center, the Linny Pacillo Parking Garage, and the Anchorage Museum extension. We could also say the revival of the McKinley Tower Apartments was a significant change to a city block. Once entirely abandoned, the reopened apartment tower sits next to a social services office on one side and a smaller apartment building for senior housing. But I can see why Andrew Halcro and probably many others would make the mistake of glossing over those other projects. Since the end of the oil boom, development in downtown has come to a virtual standstill. These days we're more used to seeing highrise buildings going up in Midtown. Whether this will change remains to be seen, but it's good to know we have a city administration that cares for this part of town and is working to make it blossom again. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The man who laid down the Anchorage grid

Anchorage townsite, circa 1915
Just thought I'd post this piece written by Charles Wohlforth in which some more details about Andrew Christensen's private life is revealed. Christensen's name has been thrown around quite a bit this year as Anchorage celebrated its 100 year anniversary. For those not familiar, Christensen was a federal official who oversaw the city's founding and was in charge of laying down the street grid for the Anchorage townsite -- today Downtown Anchorage. He also served as the auctioneer as plots on the new townsite went on the market (a reenactment of the auction was held earlier this summer). Of course you may also know him for there is a street that bears his name running from the railroad depot up to 3rd Avenue. But for me at least, what kind of tarnishes him from being a "heroic founding father" of Anchorage was his negative attitude toward the Anchorage area later in his life. While FDR was moving Depression era farmers to the Mat-Su two decades later, Christensen (now back in the States) penned a piece for Time Magazine in which he bitterly referred to the Southcentral region as a wasted and futile effort when it came to economic development and self-sufficiency. His days in Anchorage too were not without controversial moments. He bitterly fought with the Forest Service and plowed forward with the establishment of a red light district within the Chugach National Forest boundaries. He also denied Dena'ina people entry to the townsite, though I suppose this was just seen as business back in 1915 and nothing more.

Something I did not knew until reading this new article was that Christensen lived until 1969, reaching the age of 90. It makes me wonder whether he saw the development taking place in Prudhoe Bay for it was during the late 60s that oil was discovered and the first oil lease auction was held in Anchorage. Did he see what became of the Anchorage townsite? Once a quiet home to cottages and backyards, by the late 60s it became home to new highrises such as the Hill Building (now City Hall), First National Building, Anchorage Westward (now Hilton), and the Captain Cook. All of this development taking place on his grid.

More info on Christensen and the city's founding can be found here.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Former Covenant House location gets redo

at the corner of 6th and F
It's only now that I happen to be in the area of 6th and F, so I just thought I'd snap this photo of the remodeling of the former Covenant House location. The project is being undertaken by Pfeffer Development, the same company that is currently building a lowrise in midtown and recently completed a First National Bank branch in the U-Med district. Occupying the former youth homeless shelter will be a Steam Dot cafĂ©, a new restaurant called The Williwaw, and a revived Blues Central on the second floor. The only major thing Pfeffer really did to the building was add an elevator shaft to the east of the building. With the elevator, patrons will be able to dine on the roof. For those who are curious, the Covenant House moved out of the building a few years ago and moved to a new larger building in east downtown. The building was originally home to the YMCA as early as the 1950s. And yes, the Williwaw will be owned by the same force that owns Humpy's and Flattop. Not surprising considering its location. That section of downtown is really starting to become something. In related news, it may be safe to say Mark Pfeffer is counting on the building to receive many customers as plans are in the works to build a 16 story mixed-use tower on the 7th Avenue end of F Street. That project too is being developed by Pfeffer Development. But that's another story for later ;)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

ANMC Patient Housing under way

the parking garage is on the right 
Remember back in January when I posted about a new parking garage rising behind the Alaska Native Medical Center? It was quite odd because the garage was sort of isolated from everything else. Usually if there's a garage, there is a skybridge or a building connected to it. Well turns out this particular garage is no exception for it is part of a much grander plan for ANMC. Thanks to a tip from a PR person at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the garage is to be attached to a six story patient housing complex. A skybridge will connect to the main hospital. This isn't too surprising to hear as more than half of the patients coming to ANMC are from outside of Anchorage. There was also mumbling over a year ago about some sort of 'hotel' going up on campus, so this appears to be it. For a patient housing complex, the place is situated in a nice location as that immediate area is kind of low key with little traffic and a forest right behind it. I should know these things, but I wanna say there's also a lake in said forest. Architecturally, the housing complex is marvelous. I think modern "native architecture" has come a long way from the days when the main hospital was built in the late 1990s. To have the main hospital and this new patient housing sit across from each other will make for quite a contrast. And lets give a shoutout to that garage. Lately, garages built in Anchorage have included some sort of facade to cover up the structure itself (see the Pacillo garage downtown, 188 WNL in midtown). But dare I say, this might be the best executed garage wrapping I've seen so far.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Building by Pfeffer rises in Midtown

I reported on this early last year when the building didn't yet have a main tenant. Fast forward to today and the 6 story building being developed by Pfeffer Development will now be home to Kuukpik Corporation, a native corporation based out of the North Slope region. Groundbreaking started in October, but it is this summer that the steel is actually rising. What's great is that like Pfeffer's other projects, this building too will be placed up along the street making for easy sidewalk access. Both of Pfeffer's buildings on either side of the Kuukpik project already share that similar trait and so now we have 3 buildings on the south side of 36th Avenue reaching to the street with parking in the back. As it stands now, Kuukpik will occupy one floor of the building while the rest will be up for lease.

By the way, check out the model boat made from baleen that was presented to Mark Pfeffer during the groundbreaking ceremony. It's a trip~

More bike lanes for Anchorage this summer

a sharrow on the road
This summer 3.75 miles of bike lanes will be added to the city's current total of 15 miles in order to fulfill the objectives of the 2010 Anchorage Bicycle Plan. More lanes will be added next summer. They actually started adding the lanes early last month on Arctic Boulevard in the area around Valley of the Moon Park. After seeing it, I have to say its quite impressive as the road not only has lines on the shoulder, but also 'sharrows' in the areas where there is no room for bike lanes and car and bike must share the road. On top of that, the sharrows aren't merely just painted on the road -- they're etched into the road. Last time I was on Arctic, construction crews had a lane closed just so they can dedicate the amount of time it takes to engrave each of the symbols. According to the Alaska Dispatch however, the current crop of lane projects this summer are only the more simpler designs, and more elaborate lanes will show up next year. I thought having sharrows, lines, and traffic signs was good enough for Anchorage, but apparently we'll be in store for more to come by this time next year. I should also note while I'm on the subject that 10th Avenue in Downtown is slated to become a "bicycle boulevard" complete with sharrows and back-in only parking. A timeline on that project hasn't been set yet.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fire Island Bakery plans second location

Fire Island Rustic Bakery
Fire Island Bakery has announced that it is going to open a second location in the Airport Heights neighborhood in East Anchorage. The bakery has a loyal following, so it has a bit of the "Moose's Tooth element", except I'm pretty sure it is not as well known as the Midtown pizza place. One reason for this may be that Fire Island Bakery is not located on a commercially zoned thoroughfare inside a 1970s era strip mall. In fact you have to go pretty out of your way to get to the bakery as its located in the heart of the leafy South Addition neighborhood just south of Downtown. And for that reason, I love this place. Obviously there are not many neighborhoods that have a commercial business tucked inside it, but more emphasis on mixed-use zoning in the new city building codes is changing that as can be seen with the Rustic Goat restaurant that opened in West Anchorage a couple years ago. Anyways, Fire Island's Airport Heights Bakery is expected to possibly be open as soon as this summer and like its original downtown location, will cater to neighborhood residents.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Charles Wohlforth: downtown is not dilapidated, don't give tax break to 4th Avenue project

the last abandoned site downtown before its restoration
Charles Wohlforth, whom you may know as both the author of the official Anchorage centennial history book, and host of a show on KSKA, penned a piece on why he thinks it's a bad idea to demolish the 4th Avenue Theater to make way for a large redevelopment project. I do have to say though that while Wohlforth described the theater as being "demolished" for the project, I at least am under the impression that the facade will be saved as I had noted with some projects in the Lower 48. But of course I could be wrong, and if the developers at Peach Investments decide later to scrap the preservation, then it would indeed be an outrage. And that is something to be concerned about. It is common for developers and architects to fiddle around with a project and make major changes that look nothing like the original proposal. How do we know Peach Investments will not alter its project after it clears its hurdle with the Assembly? 

Wohlforth also raises a good point about the awkwardness of the towers proximity to 4th Avenue. At 28 stories, it will be the tallest building in the city. Yet it will be on the same block as businesses that line the south side of 4th Avenue. It's a problem because 4th Avenue has a distinct character as a street that is lined with human scale storefronts and buildings that go no higher than four floors (obvious exception with the LIO building). A 28 story building will feel more at home on the southern half of the townsite around 7th and 6th Avenue in which tall buildings exceeding 20 floors already exist. 

Another thing worth highlighting is the exaggeration about shuttered business's with boarded up windows that Peach Investments claimed can be seen everywhere downtown. I should have called them out on this in the initial post about this project 2 weeks ago, but since Wohlforth also brought it up, I'll air it here. There is not a single boarded up property that I know of in downtown. And I know downtown well. The last place I could think of that was boarded up was the Inlet Hotel on 'H' street. But that was because police shut it down, not because of lack of investment in the area. And in any case the building was demolished. Anyone who was here in the 90s will know that the McKinley Tower (then the McKay Building) in east downtown was the abandoned eye sore that had everyone's attention. Civic leaders agreed that the abandoned apartment tower was holding downtown (particularly east downtown) back. No mention was made of other sites in downtown being abandoned, dangerous, and derelict. It was because the McKinley Tower was the one and only abandoned site by the late 90s. Now that it has been restored, there has been no discussion about rescuing other areas, and it appears the populace is satisfied with the shape of downtown these last 15 years. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Developers take sides in the mayor's race

Some interesting tidbits of information have been hashed out in this Alaska Dispatch article regarding donations made by developers in the mayor's race between Berkowitz and Demboski. Both the Anchorage Home Builders Association and developer Mark Pfeffer donated to the Berkowitz campaign. What I find bizarre however is that a significant amount of funding from the conservative Christian group Alaska Family Action (which backed Demboski, of course) came from developers. I understand that many developers may be interested in backing a conservative candidate such as Demboski due to her hands-off philosophy concerning building regulations (some developers may have even hoped to get more Title 21 rollbacks under her administration), but why donate to a social conservative organization? Seems like a weird route to take to support your candidate. Among the developers who donated to Demboski through Alaska Family Action was Chuck Spinelli of Spinell Homes, which isn't surprising. 

This latest piece of news brings to mind what happened to Anchorage Assembly member Elvi Gray Jackson during a re-election campaign that she ran a few years ago. Hoping to decimate the bench of liberals, a group of developers poured money into advertising against her by using homophobic scare tactics in their ads. Among the donors I recall were Spinell Homes and Davis Constructors & Engineers. In the end, Jackson won and the developers lost. This was the first time I noticed the odd social conservative angle that developers were taking. I understand that they had interest in affecting the makeup of the Assembly which was still working on Title 21 at the time, but why work in cahoots with social conservative groups? I suppose the most realistic answer is simple scare tactics. Homophobic political attacks worked well in the early 2000s, but now we're in a time when the current crop of GOP candidates (Bush, Rubio, Cruz etc) are dodging the issue due to changing national opinion. And as we can see last night, even in red state Alaska, at a local level, Republicans are finding that homophobic scare tactics are no longer a sure thing. Demboski dragged social issues into the center spotlight of this race hoping to capitalize on people's concerns -- and it backfired. We've come a long ways from the days when then mayor George Wuerch ordered the Loussac Library to take down a gay pride display while not suffering any political damage.

What we can take away from this is that there are two sets of developers. Those who champion quality projects (such as Pfeffer), and those who seek to round corners and do what they want at the expense of the city's quality of life. The latter folk are the ones more likely to use crude scare tactics in their campaigning.

"It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay, or heterosexual -- this is our Anchorage,"

^Those are the words of your new mayor-elect Ethan Berkowitz. After facing a runoff election with opponent Amy Demboski, Berkowitz won tonight in what can simply be described as a blowout! As of this posting with 98% of precincts reporting, Berkowitz has a commanding lead with 59% to Demoboski's 40%. Normally we at Joop try not to show any overt excitement for a particular candidate (unless it's Mark Begich, who we still love), but the fact of the matter is this was a truly important election. In my opinion this was the most important municipal election in decades. More than ever, the contrasts were black and white when it came to the issues that this blog covers. Amy supports the Knik Arm Bridge. Ethan is against it. Amy is for conservative values of limited government, limited oversight, and limited regulations. Ethan Berkowitz is not that man. You may also recall earlier at the start of the runoff, it was reported that Amy completely blew off a survey sent to her by a Anchorage bicycle group looking to her for her position on bicycle safety and her plans to better integrate bicycle commuting. Ethan on the other hand embraced his biking constituents and was articulate on his position with regard to bicycle safety and infrastructure. Their positions represented a battle of cultures. It's only to be expected that a candidate from Chugiak-Eagle River was not going to champion smart urban policies. Ethan on the other hand lived in South Addition before heading over to West Anchorage (full disclosure: Joop world headquarters are in West Anchorage). To have an "inner-city" candidate triumph over the exurban candidate was crucial should the city of Anchorage continue to move forward. 

But beyond the context of what this means for urbanism, Berkowitz's win represents a new hope for the city. What we just saw tonight is Anchorage redeeming itself after the very ugly fight over LGBT equality that played out in 2009 and once more in 2012 during the Sullivan administration. For a city that wishes to keep its young people and attract millennials from abroad, Anchorage was doing all the wrong things. But tonight the voters have spoken, and they have said that they've had enough of Sullivan's culture wars, Jerry Prevo's lies from the pulpit, and the Alaska Family Council's fear mongering. In Ethan Berkowitz, we are getting both an urban champion, and a champion for diversity and equality. Anchorage is once again open for business. Let's continue to transform this city.

Friday, April 24, 2015

4th Avenue Theater part of new mixed-use tower project

Yup, read all about it here. If you've already read the story, the Fang's (the husband and wife duo behind the proposal) and their company Peach Investments should sound familiar. About 15 years ago they proposed building a 20+ story tower on 5th Avenue in the empty lot next to Key Bank, right behind the 4th Avenue Theater. As goes with many proposals, the project fell through and nothing came of it. The proposal just reported by the Dispatch News a few hours ago today appears to share many of the same elements of the previous proposed highrise. Like the circa 2000 proposal, this new tower will be over 20 stories (28 to be exact). Additionally this proposal like its previous incarnation will also be mixed-use with office space, hotel, and residence (oh, and retail). But what's the major difference between today's proposal and the one from 15 years ago? Well in 2009 the Fang's bought the neighboring 4th Avenue Theater at a foreclosure auction for $1.6 million. In the time since then, they have kept mum about what their plans for the theater were. When the issue of the outdoor breezeway on theater property became an issue with regards to public misuse last year, a Peach Investments representative declined to comment when asked what he meant when saying they might "remove the issue" altogether. He went on to say he was advised by Peach not to discuss anything related to the 4th Avenue Theater. ...Needless to say, those kinds of words coming from the property owners was quite discomforting for us fans of the beloved theater.

And so with the purchase of the theater, this new proposal seeks to extend its footprint from 5th to 4th Avenue which means incorporating the 4th Avenue Theater and a neighboring property into the development. Though no specifics were cited in the article, it appears that elements of the theater's facade will be retained. I go by this conclusion simply because it is totally not unheard of for developers to cleverly retain a historical facade while replacing the rest of the building with a completely new development. The Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan is one of the more high profile projects that come to my mind (the tower was built in 2004, while the base was built in 1928). Anyways Peach Investments is hoping to score tax breaks for their current proposal which means going before the Anchorage Assembly to do some convincing. Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen, but we may have an answer soon. As for my thoughts -- well I'd like to see the project penciled out some more before I can come to a judgement. If done correctly, this could be a great project.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

It's no longer Coffey time

Dan Coffey's Anchorage
Well if you had not seen the mayoral election results from this Tuesday, it's not over yet. With Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski pulling away from the rest of the pack with the most votes, the two will face each other in a Cinco de Mayo election to see who gets to be Anchorage's next mayor. What is worth noting however, and this is the reason why I even make a post about this topic on a non-political blog, is what happened to Dan Coffey. Berkowitz and Andrew Halcro got into the race in January this year. Demboski declared her candidacy last August. And Mr. Coffey? He started campaigning in October... of 2013!! Dan Coffey's campaign was as long as many presidential campaigns. Even the race for governor isn't this long. And like a presidential campaign, Coffey did indeed rack up quite a bit of dough from his relentless fundraising drive. In all, his war chest collected over $300,000, far outpacing any of the candidates. But that was, after all, his stated purpose in running what is safe to say, the longest mayoral campaign in Anchorage's now 100 year history. Finally after one year and six months, it was election night. Coffey was looking giddy as he unexpectedly inserted  himself in a Channel 2 live shot Tuesday afternoon at a busy intersection crowded with sign wavers. But it is safe to say the happiness soon wore off as the election tally that night revealed him to finish... in last place (among the main contenders). Dan Coffey was Mayor Dan Sullivan's hand picked successor to the municipal throne.

And it is this relationship between the mayor and Dan Coffey that makes AnchorageJoop relieved in his election night implosion. You may remember that not long after Sullivan took the mayors office in the late 2000s, he hired his old buddy Coffey to review the newly rewritten Title 21 code. With Title 21, the city's design and building standards, having just gone through a decade long review in which developers and the general public had their feedback taken into account, the newly minted code was thought to finally be finished. It was a compromise between developers who fought against added regulations, and the people of the city who fought against loosening regulations that would adversely affect their way of life. But with Mayor Begich gone and the conservative Sullivan in, Coffey was unexpectedly hired as an outside consultant to review and revise the newly completed Title 21. Needless to say, a number of codes and standards which had already gone through a long and exhausting review process, were quickly nixed by Coffey. And not surprisingly, Coffey swung in favor of developers. Among the major changes made was Coffey's eradication of the designated density zones. So now instead of having highrise buildings only in Midtown and Downtown, you can now have a 25 story highrise go up next to your house in South Anchorage. In addition, sidewalks no longer have to be on both sides of the street, thanks to Coffey's backroom revisionism. Ivan Moore captured the spirit of the frustration at the time with his column Bubba's Anchorage or yours?

Of course, this is just one of numerous other complaints that I and many others have toward Coffey. As a bigoted man, Dan Coffey voted against the anti-discrimination ordinance just as his master, Dan Sullivan had wanted. Having spent years leading CHARR, a restaurant and bar industry group, it was certain that he would as mayor continue to protect corrupt bar owners and fight new regulations that promote public safety as he did when leading the corrupt CHARR. And let's not even get started on the recorded phone call conversation in which Coffey talks about paying Assembly members to vote a certain way. It was this phone conversation, recorded thanks to Dan Coffey's butt-dialing of the late Allen Tesche's answering machine, that is believed to be the biggest factor in his loss.

With this chapter in Anchorage history appearing to come to an end, what pleases me most is that even in the afterlife, Allen Tesche can still take down Coffey. Here's to ya, Assemblyman Tesche.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

New archway proposed for 4th Avenue

On Saturday, what was suppose to be a day at the dogsled races was nothing of that sort. With little snow and temperatures hovering above freezing, this year's Fur Rondy dogsled championship was cancelled. But what did go on was a ceremony dedicating a new archway in honor of George Attla, a veteran of the races who took more victories during the race's long history than anyone else and who recently passed away. But I'm not sure whether the arch was intended as a memorial to him originally. After all, this archway (which will apparently dub the area as the "Mushing District") has been floating around for more than a year. But whatever the case, there you have it. I find the idea of archways intriguing. I was in San Diego last year and I saw a couple archways hanging at the Gaslamp Quarter, and Little Italy. But whereas people in San Diego have been referring to those neighborhoods by those names long before the arches went up, I'm pretty sure nobody in Anchorage had ever regarded this section of 4th Avenue as the "Mushing District". In other words, it feels too contrived. What sets this part of downtown apart so as to deserve its own place name? There's no theme among the areas businesses, no unifying architecture that defines the area. Part of me thinks this is the city's way of trying to spur positive development along this portion of 4th Avenue. After all, the arch will stand next to the one remaining block of "Seedy 4th Avenue". But I don't think there's much that can be done to the more general area. Unlike west 4th Avenue with its quaint small shops lined up next to each other, a block into the new Mushing District is met with block sized buildings with blank walls. It kills pedestrian activity and explains why nobody bothers to venture east past 'C' Street. It was a mistake to allow a parking garage to take up an entire block on one side, and allow Holiday Inn to build a block sized hotel on the other side. And having the miniature highway of 'C' Street going through it also doesn't help. But I digress. By the way, this isn't the first time an archway has been called for in Anchorage. A few years ago there was a proposal to put archways in Spenard. But while Spenard attempts to display its bohemian credentials, its not-so-bohemian reliance on automobiles makes Spenard a physically non-memorable place in which parking lots dominate the fronts of buildings. Placing an archway in an urban environment like Spenard would just look awkward. As miffed as I am about this new "Mushing District" arch, downtown is certainly a better venue to be hosting this kind of street decoration.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Alaska Legislature Building Update

Before on the right, After at left. Click to enlarge

...While I'm at updating how the new CIRI building looks, I might as well also provide a photographic update of the Alaska Legislature Building downtown. As you can see, it is a huge difference. When the building was built some 40-plus years ago, the sides of the building had no windows -- those were added later. Now, as you can see, natural sunlight dominates the interior. And no, you're not imagining things, the front of the building did get wider. The Anchor Pub was a two story building that sat next to the Legislature building and actually got its start as the Empress Theater nearly 100 years ago. The theater was shut down and the buildings facade was recladded in concrete to look like the Legislative building next door. Both buildings were at the time used by Interstate Bank. So yes, it was kinda sad to see the old theater go, but it's not like the building was being preserved to keep its 1920s appearance or anything.

After and Before as seen from 4th Avenue

And while I'm at that, I might as well also provide a comparison of 909 Ninth Avenue, which itself was recladded about three years ago in what in my mind was a badly needed makeover.

909 Ninth Ave. After at left, Before on right

With all these 70s era buildings being recladded, it makes me wonder what else will get a change of skin. Downtown is afterall dominated by 60s and 70s era concrete slabs. I suppose the new candidate in need of change are the two Westward Anchorage buildings that flank the Hilton tower. Anyways, while the legislature building and 909 Ninth Ave have been given new life, I'd still say the most famous restoration was the McKinley Apartments tower.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

CIRI Building Progress Report

I was in the neighborhood earlier today and just thought I'd snap a picture of the new CIRI HQ which as you can obviously see is nearing completion. I do have to admit that the building doesn't look the way I had envisioned it after seeing sketches of the design earlier last year. It's not as exciting, but then again it is extraordinarily rare that a building turns out exactly as it appeared in an artist rendering. Other buildings are expected to follow as the CIRI building is part of a larger development known as the Fireweed Business Center. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Knik Arm Bridge in dire straits

This story has been developing since as early as November, shortly after the election, but now I think would be a good time to provide a brief recap on what has been happening with regards to the Knik Arm Bridge. Basically, with the state facing a huge deficit crisis due in part to the declining price of oil, the state, and the newly elected Walker administration that was elected to lead it, are now in full blown austerity mode as trimming down the budget becomes imperative. With that, it was not so surprising to see that shortly after being sworn in at the beginning of December, Governor Bill Walker has gutted the financing for the Knik Arm Bridge and the proposed road to Juneau, among other mega projects. Not so surprising considering that the bridge had long had a target on its back going back a decade due to the millions in federal dollars that it depends on. In late December the governor announced that he was bringing a halt to the Knik Arm Crossing and other projects which meant that KABATA (the state financed group overseeing the project) cannot enter into new contracts or carry out further expenditure activities indefinitely. Shortly afterwards, the DOT commissioner sent out a memo defending the Knik Arm Crossing and Juneau road project citing the consequences of not spending the federal money given for the projects. In response, Governor Walker promptly fires the commissioner with spokeswoman Grace Jang citing that Walker wants the priorities of his commissioners to align with his. Catching up to yesterday, January 19th, Walker has announced that the eminent domain process that KABATA has been using to seize and demolish properties to make way for the bridge landing will come to an end. The eminent domain actions by KABATA were particularly controversial due to the fact that they were seizing properties despite the bridge being far from being a sure thing (and we're talking before Walker's election). Some Government Hill residents accused KABATA of seizing property as a means to gain momentum on its side and make the project look more inevitable and hopeless to fight against. Last year Tesoro announced it was closing the neighborhood's only gas station and convenience store due to expectation that it was going to have to close. The little Subway restaurant across the street was also slated for eminent domain but has remained open. In his announcement, Governor Walker said he can relate to the business owner of the Subway shop and the service and employment provided to the neighborhood by it.

Since the beginning of this blog seven years ago, it has always been the position of Anchorage Joop to oppose the Knik Arm Crossing. Yes, this is a construction oriented blog that admittedly gets excited when large projects are in the works. But this is an excitement for projects within Anchorage. The Knik Arm Crossing is a project that leads out of Anchorage. Leading out with the bridge would be new development as the project would encourage a land rush on undeveloped land and continue unplanned suburban sprawl. In the process, Anchorage's tax base faces the threat of shrinking as the metro region takes on an identity more like that of a city in the Lower 48 in which the wealth is concentrated in the suburbs, leaving the city in dire financial straits. Only two groups have an interest in this bridge: Mat-Su officials, and private developers. Mat-Su officials have long favored the project as it would of course deliver economic growth to the Mat-Su Borough. In fact the Borough has been so eager for this project that they earlier attempted a now failed ferry operation that was suppose to float cars between Anchorage and Point McKenzie and serve as a prelude to the bridge's construction. Now the Borough is stuck with an unusable ferry, the federal government demanding its money back, and struggling to find a buyer (their latest interested buyer is a car rental company from Turkey). Meanwhile developers are salivating at the opportunities that come with opening land on the other side for it means they can relive the glory days of the 1970s when cheap undeveloped land was to be found in the Anchorage Bowl for which another strip mall could be placed. For many developers, what matters is their bottom line, not the consequences that come with their preference for unrestricted deregulated development that is free of any long range city planning. The consequences range from the increase of traffic, to more incidents involving wild animals, an expanding city budget to cover roads and sewers, worsening health effects promoted by a lifestyle that discourages walking, and an aesthetically unpleasing cityscape. Now that Anchorage finds itself hemmed-in in each direction due to its geographic boundaries, the city is finding for the first time that it must rethink the way it grows. This is an exciting time to be in Anchorage for the city is finding itself in a transition. Increasingly vanishing is the practice of building on virgin ground as developers now find themselves increasingly having to redevelop previously built upon land. In the process, the cityscape is starting to mature. Trailer parks and pipeline era commercial properties are being replaced with more thoughtful higher density developments. With the city promoting redevelopment and higher density construction through its updated codes and long range plans, the transition is only expected to continue. A severe housing shortage makes the need for higher density developments more acute.

If the Knik Arm bridge is built, it will be a puncture that will deflate all the momentum Anchorage has going for it to transition into a higher density more walkable city. This is why I am very pleased with the decisions of  the Walker administration. I think it's safe to say Walker is also the man of the hour in the Government Hill community, which has fought a very emotional battle against KABATA for a decade now. Government Hill residents have been on the front lines of this battle, and for their decades long activism, Anchorage Joop salutes them.

btw check out Knik Bridge Facts, which I have had as a link for the last few years. Hasn't been updated since November, but there is loads of information over there.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Winter Construction Rundown: U-Med Edition

I call it U-Med Edition because it is only the U-Med district in which winter construction activity is really present. And it's hardly surprising that it is the U-Med that is seeing action -- it has precedent if it had not been obvious yet. Since 2004, we have seen the opening of the UAA APU Consortium Library, the Conoco Phillips Science Building, a major expansion of Providence Hospital, expansion of the Alaska Native Medical Center, UAA Health Science Building, three parking garages, and more recently, the Alaska Airlines Center, and the new Engineering Building. And I did not even give  a full list of the new buildings that went up at the UAA campus. Rather than slowing down, activity has only speeded up in recent years and this season is no exception. A new parking garage is under construction at the ANMC campus, while on Providence Drive there is a new First National Bank branch going up not far from a new pedestrian walkway that spans over Providence Drive.

Alaska Native Medical Center Parking Structure

My apologies for not having much information on this project. The garage is located right behind the main ANMC building, however the garage may not even be for the hospital. Earlier last year, Southcentral Foundation held a ground breaking ceremony for a new three-story health facility. After my best efforts, I could not pinpoint the location of this new building (all I know is it hasn't gone up), but I suspect it has nothing to do with the parking garage. Also talked about earlier last year was the construction of a six-story hotel for hospital visitors. For a hotel of that size, a garage might seem appropriate. But there is no building going up next to the garage at the moment. Guess we'll have to wait.

First National Bank U-Med Branch

                Unlike other First National Bank branches around town, it appears that the bank is going for a more modern and state of the art look for its first U-Med branch. Makes sense considering its highly regarded neighbors as well as the overall well-manicured appearance of the district. A classic Midtown strip mall or gas station would painfully stick out in a setting like this. What I really like about this building is the fact that it will be right up to the street sitting at the corner of Piper and Providence. No parking lot and landscaping in front of the building. But this choice of layout isn't surprising considering that this project is being developed by Pfeffer Development. Pfeffer is also behind a string of developments on 36th Avenue in which those buildings also sit up to the street with entryways leading from the sidewalk. You can catch the progress on this building at the bank's official site.

Providence Drive Skybridge
Bringing UAA's skybridge count up to four is this new arch shaped span that will connect the new Engineering Science Building with the new-ish Health Science Building. We've covered this as early as 2008, but now it's actually happening. The bridge has more of a visual impact than I had anticipated. Driving eastbound to UAA on 36th Avenue, the bridge is visible as soon as you come over the hill toward the intersection of 36th and Lake Otis. It looks like this bridge will be giving the U-Med a visual landmark, at least from 36th.

So there ya go. One project left out of this U-Med rundown is yet another new parking garage, this one for UAA, for which work started last fall. Right now however, all that is there are the concrete foundations. I'll probably cover it by spring. Besides that, UAA has been looking at building a second Health Science Building, likely to be located next to the existing Health Science Building on Providence Drive. If you had not known yet however, the winds have changed and the state is using its red pen to lighten its spending budget. In addition, the recent collapse of oil prices is certainly not helping financial matters. With the University of Alaska dependent on the actions in Juneau, UAA may be seeing the sun set on its decade of construction activity.