The owner of the Alyeska Resort has released details of a master plan that calls for major new housing developments in Girdwood that representatives say could address a shortage of dwellings in the town.
Pomeroy Lodging’s plan includes building a workforce housing community in one area and a ski village with condominiums and commercial space in another area, near the Hotel Alyeska on land the resort owns.
Next, starting perhaps in eight years, the company wants to build a residential neighborhood on undeveloped wooded land near Glacier Creek. That land is currently owned by the Municipality of Anchorage’s Heritage Land Bank, but the resort has taken early steps to acquire it for development.
Opposition in Girdwood earlier this year put the brakes on a different major housing project called Holtan Hills that also involved land-bank parcels in a different area near Glacier Creek.
Some Girdwood residents say the resort’s long-term plan to develop the land-bank acreage has generated some concerns. But they say the resort’s willingness to start its projects by building workforce housing could help increase support for the Glacier Creek neighborhood that might be built later.
If the vision is fully realized, it would result in the creation of at least 300 new housing units, and long-sought community amenities like a new grocery store, swimming pool and an outdoor ice rink, representatives for the resort say.
“It’s really moving the property into the 21st century,” said Thomas Meding, a senior vice president with Canada-based Pomeroy.
The projects call for upward of $350 million in investments in the years to come, but company representatives acknowledge that the plans aren’t certain. They have a high degree of confidence that they can complete the first two phases, though they say the cost and availability of workers and materials are potential complications. They say the Glacier Creek development is not a priority right now, since the timeline for those plans is farther out.
Community leaders expressed skepticism that all of the plans, which also include new ski terrain, will ultimately be built.
But they pointed out that the resort is already moving ahead with some efforts, including providing land to a local nonprofit that’s working to build a day care to relieve a long waitlist for children.
And this summer, the resort built 71 new worker housing units at a complex near the Alyeska hotel, which Pomeroy representatives describe as the most meaningful addition to the housing supply in Girdwood in the recent past.
“This is very much an aspirational plan for how development can proceed over the next decade,” said Mike Edgington, a member of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, the local governing body.
“But I think some things will happen in the short-term,” he said, such as new apartments that could support Alyeska employees and the broader workforce.
And he said other things might be built over the long-term, such as a proposed conference center that could be a useful addition for all of Alaska.
A multi-stage plan
Pomeroy unveiled the concepts in September at a well-attended community meeting in Girdwood.
The plans will help improve the resort’s competitive position against Lower 48 resorts, providing a wider array of activities and the addition of high-end services, Meding said in an interview.
The projects are also meant to address concerns in the town of 2,000 about a lack of services and a shortage of housing that have caused home and rent prices to soar and thinned the workforce, he said.
“We believe if we want to be successful, the community needs to be successful,” said Meding.
Pomeroy purchased the resort with its eight-story hotel in 2019.
The company said in a statement this month it’s spending nearly $50 million on projects in its first five years at the resort, including on a large outdoor-indoor Nordic spa that opened last year.
The efforts include a recently launched renovation of the hotel and its guest rooms, lobbies and other areas. A new Italian restaurant recently opened, Forte Alaska, replacing the Pond Cafe. Rooms in two floors have already been refurbished this summer, and more changes are coming, Meding said.
More worker housing units are also needed, he said. The units can provide dwellings both for workers at the resort and local businesses, he said.
Pomeroy Lodging expects to break ground in 2025 on the worker housing community and ski village, two portions of the plan that will move forward in tandem, Meding said. Completion is expected around 2031, he said.
The resort will need municipal permitting approval for the projects, Meding said. That process is expected to begin in the coming months. Girdwood is part of the municipality, though it’s a 45-minute drive southeast of the Anchorage Bowl.
A day care and ‘workforce housing community’
That “workforce housing community” would consist of at least 150 new rental units, such as studio apartments and townhouses, near an area that already includes workforce housing, Meding said.
The plan is to provide housing that’s affordable for families and individuals, he said. The area will include the day care, a recreational center with a pool and fitness facility, an outdoor ice rink and retail space, plans show.
The $3.2 million day care will replace the Little Bears Playhouse facility that was built by volunteers in the 1960s, said Joan Lower, board president of the day care. The new center will be large enough to accept more than 100 children, more than three times the current capacity. It will help resolve the day care’s 1.5-year-long wait list, she said.
The resort has leased the land to Little Bears at essentially no cost. It’s $1 annually for 99 years, said Girdwood resident Krystal Hoke, who is helping to oversee the project.
Hoke said the town has pursued the project for nearly three decades, but finding suitable land to build on has often been an issue until now. The day care is continuing to raise money for the project, which can move ahead separately of the resort’s plans if needed, she said.
“We are so excited,” Lower said. “We’ve been trying for a very long time to get a better place for ourselves.”
The “walkable skier village” would be built just north of the hotel, resort representatives said. It will include at least 70 dwellings and an array of shops and restaurants. Some ground-floor retail space will have condominium hotel units above it.
That area would include a new conference center and possibly a grocery store, Meding said. There will be opportunities for residential ownership in the village, commercial space for local businesses and communal areas, the resort says.
Huge old-growth spruce trees would remain in place between the hotel and the ski village, helping obscure the development, Meding said.
“We just really want to make sure that everything is nestled into nature,” he said.
Glacier Creek project
The vision calls for those projects to be followed by the third major project consisting of low-density, single-family homes on wooded lands north of the hotel, the resort says.
Meding acknowledged that this part of the plan could be the most challenging to accomplish, in part because it’s not on land the resort already owns.
The Glacier Creek project would be built east of Glacier Creek, on land currently owned by the municipality’s Heritage Land Bank. Construction for that project could potentially start in 2031, Meding said.
The land bank has signed a letter of intent with the resort and developer Seth Andersen, and they are conducting preliminary land and site planning at the Glacier Creek site, said Emma Giboney, a land management officer with the land bank.
Several steps and opportunities for public comment would be required before the Heritage Land Bank could dispose the land to be used for the project, Giboney said in an email. The steps include creation of a development agreement, she said. Anchorage Assembly approval would ultimately be required.
Residents say the land is prized for its natural beauty and that part of the project could generate the most resistance in Girdwood.
Opposition from Girdwood residents earlier this year contributed to the Assembly’s decision to set aside another major housing project in the community proposed by a private developer.
The Holtan Hills project had faced concerns from Girdwood residents that it would not provide housing that local workers could afford. That project, proposed by residential land developer Connie Yoshimura, also would have used land from the Heritage Land Bank, west of Glacier Creek.
If Alyeska provides much-needed housing for workers, then Girdwood residents might be more favorable to supporting the Glacier Creek neighborhood plan, said Jennifer Wingard, co-chair of the Girdwood supervisors board.
She said Girdwood residents support aspects of the resort’s plan that the community has long wanted to see, such as the day care and new housing that local people can afford, she said. Even professionals such as nurses, teachers and firefighters are having difficulty finding a place, she said.
She said she believes Girdwood got unfairly tarnished as being anti-development during the Holtan Hills debate before the Assembly. Her perspective is that residents during that discussion actually wanted to see development. They were essentially YIMBYs, or “yes in my backyard” advocates who support housing the town needs, she said.
“It’s workforce housing, please,” she said.