Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said Tuesday that his administration now supports converting a vacant Midtown hotel into housing for the homeless, something he has long opposed.
The Golden Lion, located near the busy intersection of the New Seward Highway and 36th Avenue, has been a flashpoint in city politics for several years now, beginning with a plan started under the Berkowitz administration to purchase properties for use as shelters and substance abuse treatment facilities. The Golden Lion’s purchase was funded with cash from the municipality’s sale of its electrical utility. Under the proposed plan, the Golden Lion would have become a drug and alcohol treatment facility.
Bronson’s successful campaign for mayor in 2021 grew in part out of vocal community opposition to those measures, and since taking office the administration has raised numerous objections to converting the Golden Lion at the expense of utilizing potential housing the municipality already owns.
“As we work together to make sure no one sleeps in the cold, I have directed my team to implement a plan that allows the former Golden Lion Hotel to be used in an efficient manner that helps as many people as possible,” Bronson said in a statement. “I am committed to working with community partners and the Anchorage Assembly to quickly bring this resource online.”
Tuesday’s announcement stands in stark contrast to an October statement from the mayor, when Bronson excoriated the Assembly after it passed a resolution directing the Golden Lion’s rooms to be used for housing homeless and low-income individuals.
“The Assembly deceived us all,” Bronson said at the time. “Not only did they kill the Nav Center, but they passed a resolution that will allow them to turn the Golden Lion into a homeless boarding house -- something they promised would never happen when the Assembly bought the building.”
(During the October meeting, the Assembly had also rejected funding of Bronson’s proposed shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage — after the revelation that, against city code, Bronson officials authorized millions in construction work over the summer without first getting the required Assembly approval.)
The Anchorage Assembly has consistently pushed for the Golden Lion to be used as part of the city’s plan for sheltering and supporting homeless people. Those overtures gained greater urgency after the Bronson administration last year closed the mass care shelter inside Sullivan Arena, directed people to a campground across town, then reopened the Sullivan this fall in a more limited capacity just as winter descended.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” said Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance during a Tuesday night meeting, noting that she was encouraged by the administration’s step.
In its October resolution, the Assembly also told the administration to report any impediments or code issues using the Golden Lion for housing might entail so they could be promptly resolved.
The Bronson administration estimates conversion work and repairs to make the building comply with safety standards will cost around $700,000. They anticipate the facility opening in four to six months.
Meg Zaletel, whose Midtown district covers the Golden Lion property, asked the administration at the Assembly meeting when it expected to produce a timeline for the facility, along with the necessary public meetings to handle appropriations for it. Zaletel is also head of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness.
“I’m just curious when we would see that, and I would suspect it would likely be before first-quarter budget revisions,” Zaletel said.
“Yes,” Bronson replied, the aim was to have funding meetings within the coming months.