Summer will see booming commercial construction in Anchorage

Kyle Hopkins

It's facelift time for the Fred Meyer in Midtown.

The department store and grocery chain plans to begin a $20 million overhaul of its oldest Anchorage store, at 1000 E. Northern Lights Bvld., beginning in July. Think high-rise glass panels at the entryways and a second floor mezzanine for eating deli counter corn dogs.

"We're essentially completely rebuilding the store within the walls. All the departments are going to be upgraded," said Bob Currey-Wilson, director of real estate for the Portland, Ore.-based chain.

The project is just one piece of what city planners are calling a boom year for commercial construction in Anchorage.

Builders had applied for approval of more than $223 million in construction projects as of April 19 -- a 30 percent increase over the same period in the previous year, city records show. That includes more than $165 million in commercial construction.

Retail projects under construction this summer include:

The Natural Pantry standalone store on 36th Avenue in Midtown;

The first phase of the Bass Pro Shops store off the Glenn Highway and Mountain View Drive, at Glenn Square;

A Sam's Club at the nearby Tikahtnu Commons; and

A new Wal-Mart on DeBarr Road near Muldoon Road.

Last year the Dimond Center announced its intention to open Alaska's first factory outlet stores in the fall of 2013. That project is now on hold until at least 2014, said leasing manager Hugh Ashlock, who is working to secure tenants for the mall.

"I'm still cat herding," he said.

Other long-awaited projects are already in the works. A Cabela's store is expected to open next year in South Anchorage, next to Target off C Street and 100th Avenue, said city community development director Jerry Weaver.

Anchorage newcomer Walgreens is considering yet another Anchorage drug store location, he said, this one at the busy corner of Lake Otis Parkway and Tudor Road.

The retail heart of Alaska, Anchorage is an expensive place to build but can be a boon to big retailers.

The Fred Meyer store in Midtown is among the top 10 earners for that chain, which operates 132 stores in four states, Currey-Wilson said. (The best performer remains the bustling Airport Way location in Fairbanks, he said.)

The city has appraised the 164,000 square-foot Midtown store at $9.6 million. Approved by the planning and zoning commission in August, the renovations will add more than 4,000 square feet, mainly by adding a mezzanine level.

The overhaul will include upgraded service counters, a larger food section and rough-cut stone accents on the entryways.

"It's kind of a sophisticated approach to big box stores, over what we typically see here," said city senior planner Sharon Ferguson, who reviewed the designs.

Construction will cost about $13 million, plus about $7 million for equipment, according to Fred Meyer.

The upgrades will do little to fix customers' parking woes, a regular problem at peak hours. The plans do not include additional parking.

The store currently has 455 spaces, which falls short of the 561 required under city code, according to the planning department. The city approved a variance allowing the less-than-code parking.

"We actually looked at whether it would be feasible to put a parking structure there, but it's way too expensive," said Currey-Wilson, the Fred Meyer real estate director.

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