OPINION: New investment will transform downtown Anchorage

By Bruce Bustamante, Michael Fredericks, Debbie Rinckey, Julie Saupe, Silvia Villamides
and Bill Popp

Along with flowers, orange cones and cranes are popping up as the construction season begins. For people like us who are lucky enough to be downtown on a daily basis, we have already been able to witness the dramatic change at 601 W. 5th Avenue, otherwise known to locals as the “Old Key Bank Building.”

Shimmery glass panels and the use of angles are transforming the building that was stripped down to its frame after the 2018 earthquake into a dazzling structure that will, no doubt, provide stunning views and modern office space when complete.

This much-needed, massive undertaking is only a piece of the bigger vision for the block, called “Block 41,” encompassing several other buildings including the old 4th Avenue Theatre. The proposed project, covering most of the block, will also bring new retail, residential, hotel and parking to the heart of downtown. This is an exciting project and is the biggest private investment in downtown in decades.

Over recent years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to conduct risk assessment for things like lead, asbestos and seismic issues in the former theater and other nearby buildings that have proven too great to overcome. It is sad to lose these buildings in their current form, but we are encouraged to see the developers making great effort to preserve the historical nature of the 4th Avenue Theatre and other buildings by rebuilding the facade with new, modern materials, reconstruction of the marquee sign into a new, safe, more tech advanced iconic sign and careful handling of the interior murals will be removed, stored and reinstalled in the new building.

The current owners have called in national experts to document, protect and preserve the art inside the old 4th Avenue building and consulted with professionals on rebuilding the facade and marquee we know and love in order to keep the character of the area intact. We applaud this effort.

Along with the Block 41, other investments are gaining momentum too.

Have you been by 7th Avenue and K Street lately? Check out the new downtown location of Fire Island Bakery, That Feeling Co. and La Bodega. Together, these small businesses repurposed a former clinic to form the “K Street Market” and have been doing business since earlier this winter.

We all await the new 4th Avenue “Whisky & Ramen” scheduled to open in June and so much more.

Earlier this year, the Anchorage Community Development Authority, or ACDA, announced an agreement with 6th Avenue Center to build a 156-room boutique hotel, combined with 32 apartments, on the current transit center site. The project is estimated to bring $60 million to $65 million of investment into Anchorage, create as many as 160 jobs during the construction phase, and generate millions of dollars in new lodging and property tax revenues.

In addition, the development authority recently announced a private-public partnership at the corner of 8th Avenue and K Street downtown with Debenham Properties, who will build the first market-rate, multi-use housing in west downtown in 40 years. The project will include 44 units consisting of studios and one-bedroom apartments. The project, also referred to as “Block 96,″ is estimated to be an $11.6 million investment.

New, modern, townhomes called Downtown Edge North, have been built and sold by the Petersen Group in an area overlooking the Alaska Railroad, Cook Inlet and Mount Susitna. This new development provides housing downtown for people interested in walking to shops, restaurants and entertainment and easy access to our urban Moose Loop paved trail system.

As leaders of organizations that work to promote Anchorage, we do what it takes to encourage investment, welcome visitors and activate every part of our city right now especially downtown. We are all excited to enjoy the businesses that made it through the pandemic, try out the new places, and to witness the transformation long needed in the heart of downtown.

This summer, we hope everyone brings their houseguests and families downtown for shopping, dining, events and some of the many activities planned. If you get slowed down by a construction worker or have to walk the long way around a block — smile, wave and be encouraged. We are making progress.


This commentary was jointly authored by the Roadmap to a Vital Safe Anchorage leadership team: Bruce Bustamante, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce; Michael Fredericks, interim executive director, Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd.; Debbie Rinckey, Chugiak Eagle River Chamber of Commerce; Julie Saupe, Visit Anchorage; Silvia Villamides, Alaska Hospitality Retailers; and Bill Popp, Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints.