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Anchorage

Developers plan hotel and housing at transit center site in downtown Anchorage

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: January 10
  • Published January 9

A rendering of a proposed mixed-use hotel and residential development that would be built at the downtown transit center. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

A hotel, apartments and a ground-floor restaurant and bar may be in store for the downtown Anchorage bus depot on Sixth Avenue, part of a proposal by two developers to transform a long-blighted block in the heart of the city.

Records show developers David Irwin and Mark Lewis have started negotiations with the city development authority on a roughly $45 million project on Sixth Avenue between H and G streets. Draft plans include 120 hotel rooms and 39 one-bedroom apartments attached to the existing eight-story parking structure a block away from City Hall and the Alaska Performing Arts Center.

The Anchorage Community Development Authority, a city corporation that manages downtown parking, owns the parking structure and the transit center. An official declined an interview, saying negotiations were very preliminary.

The proposed plans are the culmination of years of community concerns about the future of the bus depot. Officials and police have said the amount of public space inside attracted criminal activity and unruly behavior among people who weren't there to ride the bus. By 2015, frustration about constant calls to police, firefighters and the Anchorage Safety Patrol about drugs, public drunkenness and other disturbances reached a tipping point. City officials began exploring architectural changes that might calm the near-constant problems.

In the fall, Andrew Halcro, the director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, promised a huge shake-up. He said the only way to address the building's problems was to "shut it and gut it." Last spring, Halcro's agency asked developers to send in proposals.

Irwin and Lewis emerged as the top contender. The development authority voted in mid-December to authorize negotiations on a deal, records show.

There's still a long way to go. Even if the two parties reach a formal deal, Irwin and Lewis will need a ground lease and clearance from the city Assembly.

Developer David Irwin explains his plans to build a mixed-use hotel and residential development at the downtown transit center, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, at the municipal planning office. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

But Irwin agreed to share a first look at the plans. At the city's permitting center on Tuesday, Irwin spread out architectural drawings created by the Anchorage-based firm RIM Architects.

According to the draft plans, a restaurant, bar and outdoor seating would be located at the corner of Sixth Avenue and G Street. The hotel operator would also run the restaurant, Irwin said.

On the other part of the ground floor, tenants would walk into a common area and kitchen near a bike storage room. Conference rooms and an exercise facility would be located on the second floor, according to the plans.

The next four floors of the proposed development would be one-bedroom apartments, each about 540 square feet. Another four floors would be hotel rooms, with separate elevators serving the the hotel and the apartments.

To build the apartments and hotel rooms, Irwin said he planned to use pre-fabricated units known as "modules." The units would be built in the Lower 48, shipped to Alaska on a boat and then hoisted into place by a crane, Irwin said.

Irwin said he began discussing concepts for the transit center project with RIM Architects in 2016.

It's been years since new hotels or apartments were built in downtown Anchorage. There's an appetite for it, Irwin said.

"In some areas of planning and construction, the downtown has been overlooked," Irwin said. "I would like to see that trend reversed."

Representatives of four national hotel chains have toured the Sixth Avenue property, Irwin said. He said he's negotiating with all four hoteliers, which he didn't name. Each wanted a downtown hotel, instead of Midtown, Irwin said.

Irwin also said he also heard anecdotal interest in the apartments as he worked on his proposal.

The administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has pushed similar projects that mix housing and commercial space, particularly downtown. On a nearby block, the nonprofit housing developer Cook Inlet Housing Authority has plans to build mixed-income apartments and shops on former city land.

The Sixth Avenue building would still serve transit if Irwin and Lewis' project comes to fruition. But the amount of space dedicated to bus riders would dramatically shrink under the plans. The entrance would move to the west side of the building, according to Irwin's plans.

Last year, Anchorage restructured its bus routes. Fewer buses make stops at the downtown depot, Irwin said.

The parking garage would remain largely unchanged, with the exception of the top floor, Irwin said. He said that floor would likely be turned into some type of gathering space.

Irwin said he expects to only use private funding for the project. The Anchorage Community Development Authority, which largely draws revenue from parking meters, would mainly be responsible for relocating the transit offices, he said.

Irwin is a Washington-based developer who has been involved in large retail projects in Anchorage, including the Glenn Square Mall. He owns Irwin Development Group.

Lewis is a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs under Gov. Bill Sheffield and served as the city manager of Valdez when now-Gov. Bill Walker was mayor. He now runs Alaska Pacific Development, which has offices in Anchorage and in Reno, Nevada.

In 2017, Irwin and Lewis won a bid for a major development that would combine housing, a grocery store and a new city health department building at a city-owned property at Elmore and Tudor roads. The plans also call for senior housing at the site of the current health building downtown. Irwin said he's hoping for construction to start in the spring.

Irwin and Lewis had not worked together before until the city suggested combining their separate proposals on the Tudor-Elmore project.

But now, Irwin said to expect more from the team.

"I think there is more that needs to be done downtown," Irwin said.

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