Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has until Friday to follow through with a deal to purchase a former Alaska Club building in Midtown — a deal set up by former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson to create more homeless shelter beds before winter.
But Bronson’s administration is indicating the new mayor is unlikely to go through with the Alaska Club deal as previously planned.
“We are not inclined at this time to go forward with the Alaska Club,” Craig Campbell, whom Bronson has selected as his chief of staff, told Assembly members during a committee meeting on housing and homelessness Tuesday. “But we haven’t said ‘no’ yet. We want to evaluate that a little more compared to what we’re offering with our solution.”
Quinn-Davidson in May announced that the city had entered into a $5.436 million purchase contract for the former Alaska Club building on Tudor Road in Midtown, which she planned to turn into a 125-bed congregate emergency shelter and resource hub for people experiencing homelessness. But the acting mayor left it up to newly elected Bronson, who took office July 1, to follow through with the plan. It has a closing deadline of July 9.
At Tuesday’s meeting, members of Bronson’s administration said they will request about $15.3 million to purchase and build their own proposed shelter, a single large-scale homeless shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage for about 400, with a capacity of up to 1,000. Additional costs, such as the cost to pay a provider to run the shelter, are still being determined, they said.
City officials say they need to increase Anchorage’s homeless shelter capacity as they face another fast-approaching deadline, to dismantle the current 400-person mass shelter at Sullivan Arena by the end of September.
Bronson in an interview Tuesday said that even if his administration does go through with the purchase of the former Alaska Club, he is not considering it as an option for a shelter.
Still, he said he is open to creating more homeless and treatment services in the Midtown neighborhood.
“We’re not looking for a shelter that people can come and go as they do at the Sullivan Arena,” Bronson said. “... Over time, if we can use something in Midtown that provides therapy and people are getting permanent, full-time therapy? Yeah, that’s fine.”
Up against the deadline, some Assembly members, community leaders and members of the public say they’re concerned that Bronson’s proposed project won’t be completed in time, and that the Alaska Club might provide a viable secondary plan in the meantime.
Others have asked why the administration is not pursuing both proposals as options — purchasing the Alaska Club building and scaling down the proposed East Anchorage shelter.
Renovation work on the former Alaska Club building could be completed between Oct. 16 and Oct. 30, if initiated by or on the July 9 deadline, according to a June 24 email from Alaska Club CEO Robert Brewster to city officials.
“This project is shovel-ready with all design work completed, vendors selected and bids received,” Brewster wrote.
Still, Bronson and his administration say that their proposal would be a faster solution.
“It’s actually quicker to build than it is to renovate,” Dr. John Morris, Bronson’s homeless coordinator appointee, said in a Tuesday interview.
“Even if we were to start in a week, we’d still be able to build the structure quicker, at a greater capacity and at a cheaper cost for for the size,” he said, referring to the predicted mid-October finish date for the Alaska Club building.
Bronson said his proposal could be scaled up quickly as more and more people need shelter during the winter.
“People are going to freeze. It’s that simple,” he said.
As many as 800 people may need emergency shelter each day during winter, he said.
“It’s a moral imperative. We have to deal with this. And we’re really looking for the support from the Assembly to come alongside and do this with us,” Bronson said.
Morris told the Assembly on Tuesday that the administration will request about $15.3 million to purchase and construct the proposed shelter, which would be a dome-like fabric tent structure likely from the company Sprung Structures.
That includes $5.3 million to manufacture and ship the structure, plus about $10 million for construction, Morris said.
The administration is proposing the money come from a project to remove dead trees killed by spruce beetles, from the city’s maintenance and operation’s fleet inventory and from the city’s general fund balance.
That fund still contains millions in unspent CARES Act federal relief money that the city approved last summer to use for the purchase of three buildings for homeless and treatment services, including the former Alaska Club. None have so far been purchased.
To erect the structure in the proposed location at Tudor and Elmore roads, the city would need to move the Anchorage Police Department’s secure storage lot, which houses numerous evidence vehicles in ongoing cases. That would mean moving 500-plus vehicles to a new facility.
Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy sent Assembly members an unofficial estimate of $4 million to accomplish that task, based on APD’s experience building and outfitting its current facility, he wrote in an email Monday.
Morris on Tuesday told the Assembly he believes it will be “a fraction of that cost” to move the vehicles, and that that cost is included in the $10 million construction estimate.
The Bronson administration intends to ask the Assembly for money at its next meeting on July 13, Campbell said Tuesday.
Still, many details of the proposal remain unanswered, such as who would run the shelter, exactly what services would be provided, how the city would pay for it and how much it would cost.
“I think we got more answers, but we still need more specifics,” Assembly member Meg Zaletel, who chairs the housing and homelessness committee, said after Tuesday’s meeting.
“I am hoping that as we continue to explore this plan, we don’t take away the option of the Alaska Club, because it is something that is geared up,” she said.
It may not fully meet the city’s needs, but it will “get us a long ways there” in addition to Anchorage’s other shelter options, Zaletel said.
“But that plan B question today was really about, what is the other option?” she said. “We’ve got to have plan B if we don’t move forward with this, because we have an obligation to provide shelter.”
Morris told the Assembly that many of those questions are not possible to answer without first putting out a request for proposal to social service providers who may be interested in running the proposed shelter.
He said he expects running the shelter to cost less than about $1.6 million a month, the amount currently spent between the existing mass care facility and non-congregate shelter programs.
“I would expect it to be around $12 million a year,” he said. “But I don’t have a good data to support that, because we haven’t gotten any RFP or bid process done for services.”