Alaska News

Assembly opens way for 4th Avenue Theatre developers to get tax exemptions

The Anchorage Assembly on Thursday opened the way for the owners of the 4th Avenue Theatre to get tax abatements on the downtown property during redevelopment and for some years after.

Theater owner Joe Fang, through his company Peach Investments, recently unveiled a proposal to transform the art deco landmark and surrounding properties into a complex of hotel rooms, apartments, offices and a shopping mall.

In discussion before the vote, which passed the Assembly 9-2, some members echoed the regret expressed by many citizens during public testimony that the unused 1940s-era theater was not being restored or preserved.

Overall, however, the Assembly sided with members of the community who are excited by the prospect of bringing more commercial vitality to that section of downtown. The theater has been vacant for several years under Peach Investment's ownership. Former owner Robert Gottstein, who had used the theater as a banquet and meeting space and gift shop, said he had managed to make it an economically feasible enterprise, but had to give it up to repay a large debt.

Before voting to approve the ordinance, Assembly member Bill Evans said he respected the importance of preserving Anchorage history, but did not think there was a practical way for it to function as a viable theater.

"The only way to preserve anything of the 4th Avenue Theatre is through this process because as owners the Fangs have the right to tear it down tomorrow," Evans said. "The best thing we can do is to preserve a lot of historical elements."

Alluding to the $150-200 million project's potential economic boost to downtown, Evans said he "would hate to see this project slip through our fingers simply because we reject the good for the excellent."

The ordinance approved by the Assembly granted deteriorated area status for the 4th Avenue Theatre and surrounding properties, opening the way for the company to obtain significant property tax exemptions as it moves ahead with redevelopment.

Regarding the importance of those exemptions, Fang reiterated on Thursday what he had said during testimony earlier this week -- that the tax incentive may make the project possible, but without it, there would be no project at all.

The same ordinance that would grant deteriorated area status for the theater would also cover the Northern Lights Inn, another Peach Investments property. The ordinance would waive or reduce fees at the Anchorage Regional Landfill for disposal of materials from demolition of the dilapidated Midtown building.

Assembly members brightened whenever the prospect of the hotel's demolition came up for discussion. While many citizens lamented the potential destruction of the theater during spoken testimony this week, none objected to removal of the hotel.

"In terms of deteriorated property, the Northern Lights Inn demolition is definitely something we want to see happen quickly," said Assembly member Jennifer Johnston.

Fang estimated that demolition of the inn would happen this summer, "hopefully before end of the year," he said.

Despite her eagerness to see the hotel gone, Johnston, along with Assembly member Patrick Flynn, voted against the ordinance. She said she was concerned that the process to grant deteriorated area status to the historic theater had seemed hasty in the eyes of the public and questioned whether the two issues should have been linked under a single ordinance.

"We're putting the Fangs in a very difficult position because it looks like we're rushing something, when that's not the intent," Johnston said. "I want it to be handled well."

After the vote, organizers of the "Save the 4th Avenue Theatre" Facebook page brought up the possibility of attracting public funding for historic preservation. The page has more than 4,300 likes.

"This is only a first step in the process," the post said. "There are many ways to keep our voices heard and work with the Fang family on restoration and preservation of the Historic 4th Avenue Theatre."

Jeannette Lee Falsey

Jeannette Lee Falsey is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. She left the ADN in 2017.