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. 

No comments: