Proposal for RV resort at former site of Alaska Native hospital gains support, criticism

An idea to build an RV resort on the grounds of the former Alaska Native Medical Center on the east edge of downtown Anchorage is drawing support from neighborhood groups as a municipal economic development agency moves it forward.

Neighborhood advocates say they’re fed up with the homeless encampments that have existed at the site. A huge and particularly dangerous one grew there last last summer — there was frequent criminal activity and a number of deaths. The area is now fenced-off and empty, but several groups want the 15-acre lot improved.

But the idea also has skeptics, including Anchorage Assembly Chair Chris Constant. Concerns include that a facility serving primarily summer tourists won’t properly honor the former hospital site, where generations of Alaska Natives experienced some of life’s biggest moments.

The Anchorage Community Development Authority, a quasi-governmental municipal agency, is in the early days of studying the concept. The land, off Third Avenue and Gambell Street overlooking Ship Creek, is owned by the municipality’s Heritage Land Bank.

The development authority is calling the idea the “Denali View RV Resort.”

The agency envisions phased development with 35 full-service RV spots built by next summer. The resort would be fully built in 2027 with about 100 full-service RV spots, according to conceptual drawings provided by the agency.

The plan also proposes the construction of a memorial to honor the site’s Alaska Native history. It calls for an amphitheater, pickleball courts, a playground, bathrooms and green spaces. Trails would link Ship Creek with Chester Creek to the south, supporting a greenway trail loop in Anchorage’s urban core, a goal of the nearby Fairview neighborhood.


The Downtown and Fairview community councils have passed resolutions supporting the idea, said Melinda Gant, external affairs director for the development agency. So have the 3rd Avenue Radicals, a local neighborhood group.

Gant said the development authority is currently managing the property and keeping it clear of people and trash, under a six-month land use permit with the land bank.

Mike Robbins, executive director of the development authority, said the RV resort would be a temporary use of the site, though some facilities would be permanent, such as the Alaska Native memorial. The resort would exist for perhaps 10 or 15 years as the authority leases the land from the Heritage Land Bank, if the land bank approves the idea.

[Major Anchorage projects would change how the Seward and Glenn highways connect. But a smaller idea has traction.]

For the RV resort plan to move ahead, the development agency board would need to approve it, and eventually, the Anchorage Assembly.

Robbins said the initiative has been driven by community groups.

It could help bring economic activity to the area, he said. Plans also call for some permanent commercial services at the site, which could include a laundry facility, a small grocery store and a coffee shop, Gant said.

“We think this is really a transformational project for that part of the city,” Robbins said. “It puts to use a huge swath of land that has not been used for many years. It’s a beautiful spot with a view of mountains and the water, so there’s lot of good potential there.”

Building housing with some commercial development at the former hospital site was a big part of a 2019 Heritage Land Bank master plan developed with community input. But construction challenges at the site include elevated risk of ground failure during earthquakes, which would add costs that have prevented development, Robbins said.

“The money that would have to go into it has made it something that no one has been willing to take on,” he said.

He said that the authority has hired Agnew Beck Consulting to create a financial plan and analyze costs. An RV resort would be “much, much cheaper” than building housing, he said.

An early-stage estimate so far proposes the cost of the resort at between $4 million and $7 million, Robbins said. A private developer would pay for the project, and a private operator could manage it, he said.

“We won’t be using taxpayer money to build an RV resort,” he said. “We won’t be going to the Assembly to fund the building of the RV resort.”

Gant said one next step for the plan will be engaging with the Alaska Native community on discussions for the memorial.

Community tensions

The former Alaska Native hospital closed in 1997 after more than four decades in operation, and the lot was later cleared.

A multi-day ceremony for the closing included a reading of the names of every person who died there, and an all-night prayer vigil.

It was replaced by the Alaska Native Medical Center built off Tudor Road.


Over the years, the grassy lot has often been the site of homeless encampments.

Local residents and workers, concerned about crime and public health threats, protested the encampments in 2020, calling for them to be shut down.

During the pandemic, homeless activity decreased there when the city opened a mass care shelter inside the Sullivan Arena as an emergency measure.

But large numbers of homeless campers returned last summer, after the Sullivan Arena shelter was demobilized.

[As homeless camps take root near downtown Anchorage, neighbors say years of progress have been erased in days]

‘A slap in the face’

Meda DeWitt, an Alaska Native traditional healer and board member of a community nonprofit called Alaskans Take a Stand, said the proposal for an RV park, as she called it, is offensive to Alaska Native people.

[Earlier coverage: Housing, shops and memorial envisioned for former site of Alaska Native hospital]

“That land is considered sacred land because there’s been so many births and deaths, and healing and prayers there,” she said.


She said the proposal is akin to building an RV park in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

The late traditional healer Rita Blumenstein, who spent years advising city leaders on the use of the space, said that any development there should benefit Alaskans, and especially Alaska Native people, DeWitt said.

One focus should be on providing housing at the site that people can afford, to address the city’s housing shortage, she said.

“Putting an RV park there is just an absolute shame,” she said. “It is a slap in the face.”

Assembly Chair Constant, who has long pushed for redevelopment, said he loves that there’s new attention on improving the area.

But he said he’s skeptical of the proposed RV resort for several reasons.

With it’s large cost, it doesn’t add up economically, said Constant, who represents downtown and other areas in the North Anchorage district.

“They need to give us a plan that’s credible, that is believable, that has a funding source that is achievable,” he said of the authority.

In his view, the plan does not serve the purpose of the 2019 master plan because it does not provide “neighborhood-supportive” uses such as housing and a restaurant, he said. Those facilities could be supported, perhaps with funding from federal grants for water and sewer, helping enable housing and other construction, he said.

He’s also concerned that the proposed RV resort would “strip” away the historical and cultural value of the land to primarily serve tourists in summer, he said.

A plea for ‘reasonable uses’ of the land

Rob Cupples, a member of the 3rd Avenue Radicals who lives near the lot and owns rental cottages there, said the neighborhood group helped lead the effort that evolved into the creation of the master plan.

The proposal for the RV resort incorporates some of the master plan’s ideas, including the amphitheater and the Alaska Native memorial, he said.


But time has shown that housing development at the site would not be economically feasible, in part because of the concerns about seismic activity, he said. During the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, part of a parking lot at the former hospital was damaged and the building’s main steel support beam cracked.

A market study published in mid-2021 found that developers had determined that building housing and other mixed-use at the site would require huge incentives like property tax breaks, he said.

“The original vision consisted of a fair amount of housing, which is what we need,” Cupples said. “But the reality is because of high seismic zones and soil instability for that type of structure, it’s just extremely expensive to develop that area for that type of use.”

“It can be done, but no developers have been interested in taking on that project because it doesn’t pencil out,” he said. “So here we are five, six years later, and we’re nowhere near movement on the master plan.”

He said the homeless encampment last summer was a “community disaster.” He personally dealt with frequent trespassing on his properties, broken windows, ruined fences and other damage, he said.

He said the RV resort plan could capitalize on tourism opportunities.


“An entire tourism market is bypassing Anchorage because we don’t have nice places nearby for RVs other than the Walmart parking lot,” he said.

“We should not get hung up on the specifics of the master plan, because we could wait for decades and that will never happen,” he said. “It’s time to go back to the drawing board to find reasonable uses that meet the objective of the neighborhood.”

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or