The city of Anchorage bought two lots across the street from Anchorage's downtown homeless shelter last week — a first step in buying out a businessman who has filed lawsuits and complained for years that the shelter and nearby soup kitchen have hurt his business.
Eventually, the plan is for the businessman, auctioneer Ron Alleva, to sell all his land in the area to the city, including the auction yard right next to Brother Francis Shelter. The properties may be developed for expanded services for the homeless, such as housing, said Robin Ward, the city's chief housing officer.
The deal cost $750,000 for two fenced-in lots at the corner of Third Avenue and Karluk Street. The Anchorage Assembly authorized it earlier this year. Alleva had been leasing the lots to the city electric utility, Municipal Light & Power, for about a decade.
The Brother Francis Shelter lies is directly north of the lots. On the other side of Karluk Street is one of the city's more visible gathering places for the homeless. On Thursday, dozens of people stood on sidewalks near tents, tarps and makeshift homeless camps. Many have been turned away from the shelter and soup kitchen, Bean's Cafe, because of behavioral problems or other issues the service providers can't accommodate.
The deal comes as Alleva, who owns Grubstake Auction Co., has intensified his acrimonious relationship with the shelter and soup kitchen in recent years. He blared train horns nonstop for more than an hour in his auction yard last summer and has blamed the shelters for allowing bad behavior, like theft and vandalism. In June, police began investigating him for spreading potentially hazardous chemicals on the street near the shelter. He has pledged to retire and move his auction business online.
Ward, the chief housing officer and a longtime municipal real estate officer, said this week's transaction was meant to help Alleva.
"He wants out," Ward said. "This gives him the first step of getting out."
She also said that in the short term, the purchase gives the city more control over the property, which includes building new fencing or putting up signs.
Alleva said Thursday the city paid him less than the lots leased by ML&P were worth.
But he's moving on, he said.
"I feel real good," Alleva said. "Relieved."
Alleva said he planned to use the money from the sale in part to keep fighting an April lawsuit he filed against the city and the social services agency. His claims include that the city has effectively condemned his property by failing to control illegal activity and other bad behavior by some shelter clients. Oral arguments in that case are currently scheduled for Sept. 14.
Alleva still owns three lots adjacent to Brother Francis Shelter, which also hold his auction yard.
The city is currently negotiating with Alleva on the purchase of those three lots, Ward said. She said that transaction is still many months away.
But the eventual plan is to buy the properties and then transfer ownership to a nonprofit for development, Ward said. She said the city has been in discussion with several nonprofit agencies about the possibilities, which might include more housing and services for the homeless.
But she said the city will first have to study what is needed there.
"Is it housing? Is it mixed housing, plus services?" Ward said. "I don't know."