MAKing It: Building a new bright spot in downtown Kodiak

SPONSORED: KANA’s Kodiak Marketplace will blend local business, social opportunities, and more to elevate quality of life in the region.

Presented by First National Bank Alaska

For more than 50 years, Tribal health organization Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) has expanded its services beyond basic health care to meet the needs of residents on the Kodiak Island archipelago.

Now, the organization has a new project underway that, at first glance, might seem to be outside their realm: the revitalization of downtown Kodiak.

The upcoming Kodiak Marketplace – a multi-use space that will offer new social and business opportunities for residents and visitors alike – is a massive investment in the city’s downtown, and in the well-being of Kodiak area residents.

“Wellness doesn’t just mean medical, dental or behavioral health,” KANA Chief Executive Officer Mike Pfeffer said. “Wellness means the entire community – health, social services, business development, and access to services.”

Kodiak Marketplace is more than just a building – it will help to further KANA’s mission “To Elevate the Quality of Life of the People We Serve,” and realize the Board of Directors’ vision of “healthy, thriving communities.”

Where wellness and community meet

KANA is a Tribal health organization representing ten Alaska Native Tribes. Its services extend to seven communities, six of which dot Kodiak Island’s coastline, and one on Spruce Island, nestled on the north end of the archipelago.

The organization was incorporated in 1966. Since then, it has evolved to provide a wide range of health care and wellness programs.

KANA is unique among most Tribal health organizations in its dual focus on both health and social services, Pfeffer said. The organization’s work includes medical services, dental health, physical therapy, behavioral health, prevention programs, and even environmental research, to name a few.

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The Marketplace build is an “ever-expanding recognition of need,” said KANA Business Development Director Greg Zadina.

Research shows that community hubs – multi-use spaces where people enjoy different group activities – can help improve individual well-being.

Community hubs are places where people come together and forge social connections. Strong personal relationships are widely considered to increase happiness and health and are even associated with a longer life span.

The implications can be staggering. When grandparents spend time at senior centers even their caregiver’s quality of life can be positively impacted, one study found. Inversely, a lack of social connection has been found to harm health more than smoking or high blood pressure.

In Kodiak today, the need for a community hub is clear: There is no indoor space where large numbers of people can gather, Pfeffer said. That includes KANA’s own employee base of about 250 people. The new Marketplace plans to accommodate 500 people.

‘Reinvigorate that local love’

About seven years ago, KANA bought the former Alaska Commercial Company grocery store in the heart of downtown Kodiak, a minute’s walk from the harbor.

The old building “needed a fresh look, fresh ideas,” Kodiak Economic Development Corporation President of the Board John Whiddon said.

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“From an architectural standpoint I think it’s going to be a bright light,” Whiddon said about the Marketplace. “It’s going to be attractive. It’s going to draw people downtown.”

Kodiak Island is home to roughly 13,000 people inhabiting its mountainous landscape. It is the second largest island in the U.S., surpassed only by the island of Hawaii. The area is famous for its robust fishing industry and Kodiak brown bears.

The City of Kodiak serves as a hub for outlying communities, but it hasn’t seen much renovation during recent decades, residents say.

Kodiak needs more social opportunities, especially for families, Zadina said. He hopes the building will “reinvigorate that local love for downtown.”

“It’s creating business opportunities,” Pfeffer said of the Marketplace. He also hopes it will spur new infrastructure and investment in the area.

New development is crucial not just for residents, but for the well-being of Kodiak itself.

“If services aren’t available, then people aren’t going to be here,” Pfeffer said.

Designed with wellness in mind

The new two-story building will expand to 63,000 square feet. A live feed shows the current progress (and Kodiak’s often temperamental weather conditions).

Whiddon notices the construction progress every day. “It’s changed the skyline, and it has redrawn downtown,” he said.

The building offers more than just economic development, Whiddon said. It offers residents hope for the future.

“We’re coming out of a two-year hibernation period. It’s nice to see something happening, something moving, something new,” Whiddon said.

On the first floor, a large open floor plan offers space for business store fronts. The second floor will offer harbor views, house KANA staff and provide direct services for Kodiak residents, including employment, training, and economic-development related services. The operational plan anticipates generating social and economic opportunities like farmers markets, workshops, and trade shows.

The Marketplace will also help increase food security for the area, with warehousing and distribution of food for village elders; the space includes a commercial kitchen and conference and training rooms.

For the aesthetic design, the architect considered Kodiak’s unique climate and created a space that provides an abundance of natural light. Lots of windows and an open atrium effect on the second floor catwalk help create an inviting, bright space, Zadina said.

Many Kodiak and Alaska-based businesses are signing up to be part of the Marketplace. “There were a lot of people that were very excited,” Zadina said about the interested companies. Vendor names will be released at a later date.

“This building is going to be just a jewel downtown,” said First National Bank Alaska Vice President and Kodiak Branch Manager Mark Lonheim, who has lived in Kodiak for more than thirty years.

“It’s really exciting,” Lonheim said of KANA’s project. “They’re investing in the future of our community.”

‘We know who to call’

Pfeffer enjoys working with First National Bank Alaska because it is a community bank that understands his organization and needs. “Having that professional expertise and hometown connection, we know when we’re talking to them, we’re talking to people we can trust,” Pfeffer said.

Celebrating 100 years of investing in the success of Alaskans, First National collaborated closely with KANA to finance the Kodiak Marketplace project.

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The bank is known for its personal touch and longtime employees like Assistant Vice President and Kodiak Branch Operations Supervisor Debbie Olson. “Between the two of us that’s 60 years of banking experience,” Lonheim said.

The Kodiak team is supported by expert staff in Anchorage, including Senior Business Development Officer and Treasury Management Consultant Sherliee Keopuhiwa. “We’re very hands-on, which I like,” Keopuhiwa said.

Those close relationships with customers are crucial. “They know they have someone who has their back,” Keopuhiwa said.

“We know who to call and we know we’ll be able to reach them,” Pfeffer said.

Having those dedicated relationships helps give KANA’s team the foundation to finish the Marketplace’s exterior by this upcoming November and open the community hub in 2023, elevating the quality of life in the region in the process.

Kodiak Marketplace is a powerful embodiment of “the vitality of the community,” Whiddon said, and “the ability to reinvent itself, and to create new opportunities.”

First National Bank Alaska has been Alaska’s community bank since 1922. We’re proud to help Alaskans shape a brighter tomorrow by investing in your success as you take the leaps of faith, large and small, that enrich communities across the state.

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This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with First National Bank Alaska. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.