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Congressional action paves way for downtown Anchorage development

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 16, 2014

The Municipality of Anchorage is likely to gain control over several key parcels of land downtown, presumably paving the way for future development, following congressional action this week.

The recent passage of the federal defense spending bill, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign, includes provisions that lift restrictions on five parcels in downtown Anchorage, including the land beneath the Egan Convention Center. The federal government transferred the land to the municipality decades ago with the requirement that it could be used only for municipal purposes.

Through the legislation, the municipality now has the option to sell the five pieces of land, which include the nearly two acres beneath the Egan Center, three parcels totaling about half an acre near Seventh Avenue and I Street, and a quarter-acre lot at H Street and Christensen Drive.

During a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Dan Sullivan said there are no immediate plans for the Egan Center land, which is dedicated parkland. But he said the other parcels will be sold and developed as quickly as possible.

"These are prime downtown lots," Sullivan said.

Once the bill is signed into law, the city will be drawing up a development plan for the lots. That plan will include requirements that buyers start work within a certain amount of time, Sullivan said.

"We want actual development," Sullivan said, "not just someone speculating by buying downtown lots."

The three parcels at Seventh Avenue and I Street, across from the Anchorage Marriott hotel, are each assessed at $406,000, according to materials distributed by Sullivan's office. The parcel at H Street and Christensen Drive, a wooded area near the Snow Goose Restaurant, is valued at $335,300.

Sullivan said he envisions mixed-use development, combining residential and commercial properties.

Standing on the lot at Seventh Avenue and I Street, Sullivan also gestured across the street at the Marriott, calling it a "similar-sized parcel."

"These three lots could easily accommodate something of that size," Sullivan said. The private investment, in turn, would appear on the city's property tax rolls.

Selling the land beneath the Egan Center for private development, meanwhile, is a trickier proposition. Sullivan said research by his staff has shown that the entire block appears to be dedicated parkland, and reversing that status would require a vote by Anchorage residents. It took special Anchorage Assembly approval to give the city the go-ahead to build the Egan Center, which was completed in 1983.

He did speculate that, several decades down the road, the municipality may outgrow the convention center, at which point it may want to look into selling the property.

Where Alaska's congressional delegation succeeded in opening up the downtown parcels for development, it fell short in delivering to the municipality a federal parcel in Midtown Anchorage, once eyed for development by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The 9-acre property at 40th Avenue and Denali Street, the focus of a separate legislation, has been in limbo for years. The municipality had been looking to purchase it from the federal government, with Sullivan in the past indicating his interest in making it the site of a new transit center.

A measure directing the federal government to sell the parcel passed the House of Representatives in June but could not clear the Senate before the end of the session.

"This is the closest we've been on getting the archives bill through," Shalon Harrington, intergovernmental affairs director for the municipality, said Tuesday. "We're hopeful next Congress to be able to push it through a little faster."

Matt Shuckerow, spokesman for Rep. Don Young, said the likelihood of the congressman introducing similar legislation in the House at the start of the next session in January is "very high."

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