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.