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Downtown market says landlords want it out and a move would kill it

Michelle Theriault Boots
The Anchorage Market and Festival on Third Avenue between C and E Streets
Bill Roth
Reilly Blair, 7, walks through the Anchorage Market and Festival in 2012
Bill Roth

The Anchorage Market and Festival may be out of its home, a valuable parking lot owned by the city, if its landlords decide Thursday to terminate its lease.

Officials with the agency that owns the lot won't say why they want the market out.

But the market's owner said he believes a suggested move to Fourth Avenue would kill his business and that of the more than 200 vendors who sell everything from ivory-handled ulus to Alaska outhouse calendars.

Bill Webb has been running the summer weekend market at Third Avenue and E Street through his company, Webb Consulting and Management Services, since 1999. The market started 22 years ago as a place for farmers to sell produce now sells crafts and souvenirs to an audience that includes many tourists.

Webb said he was expecting his lease to be renewed until his landlords at the Anchorage Community Development Authority told him at a meeting earlier this month the lease would likely be terminated in September. He would have a year at most to find a new location or close.

"I said, 'Did I hear you correctly?' " Webb said in an interview Wednesday.

The city parking authority didn't say what it wanted to do with the lot, Webb said.

The leader of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, an association of businesses, suggested in a meeting that the market move to Fourth Avenue, Webb said.

"I am not interested in that," he said.

Webb says he tried running a market on Fourth Avenue before, for seven Wednesdays in 1999 at the behest of then-Mayor Rick Mystrom. Webb says it was a disaster, with angry shopkeeper neighbors and problems involving trash, electricity and safety.

If the market moves there, it will fail, he said.

"I can damn near guarantee that's what will happen," he said.

Webb circulated an email asking people to petition the mayor and board to keep the market in place.

Mayor Dan Sullivan said he hasn't been involved in discussions over the parking lot and market.

"The Community Development Authority doesn't report to the mayor," he said Wednesday. "They make their own decisions on parking lots, parking garages and some of the investments."

Sullivan appoints the board of the authority.

Officials with the Community Development Authority wouldn't discuss whether they are ending the market's lease or what their plans are for the parking lot, a valuable piece of property adjacent to the Hilton Hotel overlooking Ship Creek.

"It would be premature because our board will be making a decision on it," said spokeswoman Melinda Gant.

The lot is now used for permit parking on weekdays and by events, including the Fur Rendezvous, she said.

Webb pays the Community Development Authority $4,000 a week during the summer market season, plus a 10 percent gross of booth sales, he said.

The downtown market is a boon for Anchorage but would be even better if it moved to Fourth Avenue and "returned to its origins" as a farmer's market, said Chris Schutte, the head of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership.

"Anecdotally, what people tell us about the market is that they go to take people from out of town," he said. "The makeup is usually people being dropped off by a (tour) motor coach. It's a great attraction in that regard, and a quick and easy stop for bus drivers.

"What we've heard from the community is that it needs to be a return to what it was envisioned as -- farmers and small artisans," Schutte said. He envisions the kind of place where Anchorage neighbors run into each other on a weekend morning over coffee.

Schutte says if Webb won't relocate the market, other entrepreneurs, including the owner of the Sunshine Plaza building on Fourth Avenue, have expressed interested in a starting a market on Fourth Avenue.

Webb counters that his market already attracts many locals and creates 300 jobs.

"If it's not broke, why fix it?" he said.

Officials with the Community Development Authority said they're preparing for many people to testify at the board meeting Thursday. Webb has already signed up, as have downtown business owners and market vendors.

The meeting will be at 4 p.m. Thursday at 245 W. Fifth Ave., Suite 122, and is open to the public.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

 


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com