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Anchorage Assembly approves plans to revitalize areas of Fairview, Ship Creek

Devin Kelly
Downtown Anchorage, Alaska, viewed from a small boat in lower Knik Arm on May 29, 2014. On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly approved plans to refresh a commercial corridor of Anchorage's Fairview neighborhood and put in motion a transformation of the industrial Ship Creek area. Loren Holmes photo

Parts of Anchorage’s Fairview neighborhood and eastern downtown will become a test case for spurring new construction and redevelopment through tax incentives.

On Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly approved designation of a T-shaped, 65-block zone along Gambell Street and Fifth Avenue as a “deteriorated area.” The plan was sponsored by Assembly member Patrick Flynn and promoted by the Fairview Business Association, the Fairview Community Council and other groups as part of a revitalization effort for a neighborhood speckled with vacant storefronts and blighted properties. 

The plan falls within existing municipal code, which allows officials to give tax breaks to developers for up to 10 years for eligible “deteriorated” properties. But the eligibility process is cumbersome, and few developers have successfully completed it. 

With its declaration of all properties in a given area as deteriorated, the Fairview plan would remove that barrier, Flynn said. That enables developers to move directly to meeting with city planners and proposing a plan for the chief financial officer to review. 

The tax breaks cover only infrastructure upgrades and environmental testing and remediation, and they only offset the increases in property tax that result from a completed project. 

At the Assembly meeting, an assortment of representatives from community organizations and businesses spoke in favor of the measure, including the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and Housing Anchorage. 

After the meeting, Heidi Heinrich, owner of the Lucky Wishbone restaurant, stood outside the Assembly chambers beaming. She called it “another huge step” for the community. 

Marketing the program and talking to real estate agents will be the next phase, said Paul Fuhs, who pushed the plan forward as project manager for the Fairview Business Association. 

The Fairview plan could be described as Anchorage’s first foray into a neighborhood approach to tax abatement, Flynn said, modeled after similar policies adopted in Tacoma, Washington. The Fairview measure is being viewed as an experiment, one that could be instructive in further development of tax incentive policies. 

“Hopefully we got it right,” Flynn said. “And if we didn’t, we’ll learn some lessons.” 

Other neighborhoods with a keen interest in redevelopment are watching closely. Since learning about the Fairview plan, the Mountain View Community Council has approached Flynn about developing a similar tax abatement zone encompassing the Commercial Drive corridor, said council president Daniel George. 

Separately, the Sullivan administration has been drafting changes to the existing deteriorated properties ordinance. Those changes include language modifications and a new section on affordable housing. 

For now, that proposal has been referred to the Assembly’s Title 21 committee for review under the city’s new land-use code. 

Ship Creek master plan approved

A long-range plan to transform Anchorage’s industrial Ship Creek area into a waterfront retail and residential hub also was approved by the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday. 

The project’s master plan, unveiled more than a year ago, proposes the construction of a new cruise ship terminal, an amphitheater, apartments, a hotel and a sports complex. 

With the Assembly’s green light, architects will be taking the next big step in the plan -- designing a $400,000 connection between the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and the Ship Creek trail. In the short term, that means a “lot of meetings” with the Alaska Railroad to negotiate land use, said Michael Stevenson, a design principal with the Boston-based architectural firm KlingStubbins, which the city hired to develop the plan. 

The total cost of the project, expected to span several decades, remains unclear.  The Sullivan administration will also in the short term be requesting funding from the Alaska Legislature to realign Whitney Road. 

Stevenson said he was hesitant to put forth a detailed timeline on the project but said the architects want to move forward “as quickly as possible.” 

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Mayor Dan Sullivan said in an interview after Tuesday’s Assembly meeting. “Ten to 20 years from now, we might truly have a waterfront for our city.”