ACDA proposes controversial development at transit center garage

New mixed-use building would combine hotel, apartments, and people mover transit center

At a presentation at City Hall Last week, the Anchorage Community Development Authority (ACDA) and their partners unveiled plans for a new hotel and housing complex that will be constructed on the Northside of the existing parking structure at 700 W 6th Ave expanding the section of the building referred to by ACDA as the 6th Avenue Mall.

The 13 story mixed-use building designed by Anchorage Architecture firm, RIM Architects includes 178 hotel rooms with a bar, and restaurant as well as 32 apartments. The proposed 5-star hotel would be operated by Hotel Indigo a hotel chain owned by InterContinental Hotels Group.

The construction of this building will use a modular system from Stack Modular of Canada, the modules are manufactured in China and will be shipped to Anchorage complete with wiring, plumbing, carpet, and even furnishings. The modules will be stacked on a third-floor base that will be constructed on the Northside of the building, there will be very little conventional construction aside from this. Construction is expected to be completed by August 2021.

The building’s 6th avenue mall area is currently home to the People Mover Bus System’s main terminal and until recently, a handful of beleaguered businesses that endured the conditions there. Historically, there was a DMV on the second level and a quick stop type market. Safety issues and the persistence of problems attributed to vagrancy and public intoxication have left the building severely underutilized. ACDA has taken measures to increase safety at the facility by reducing the footprint of accessible space and has long sought to revamp the building by finding an anchor tenant like Walgreens to bring more visitors. At the presentation, ACDA public relations and development manager, Melinda Gant told the group that her organization has attended industry trade shows in an effort to bring a grocer or drug store into the space but were told Anchorage wouldn’t be considered by most national chains because so few people actually live in the downtown area – even though the demand in the summer season is significant, it’s almost non-existent in the off-season.

Generally speaking, this project is a step in the right direction – downtown Anchorage needs more housing both affordable housing and market-rate, these will be the latter – 32 new apartments are better than nothing. As explained in the presentation, the housing portion of this project is funded by the hotel and without it, the housing would not be possible.

Economics aside, it seems counter-intuitive and a missed opportunity to not make this project exclusively a housing project considering the integrated transit aspect. A mixed-income housing development would have been ideal along with an eventual expansion of the transit center (rather than a reduction) and hopefully a return of the merchants and even a major retailer like a Walgreens. If we were to expand ridership on the People Mover, integrated housing would likely be a driving factor, perhaps residents of the 32 apartments in this development will take advantage but will guests at the 5-star hotel ride the People Mover? It’s unclear how the combination will be received, even if the public safety issues (real and otherwise) are mitigated it remains to be seen how hotel guests will feel about the idling city buses out front.

Anchorage’s hotel stock is tired at best, our most luxurious hotel, the 4-star Hotel Captain Cook just isn’t what it used to be and despite our continuous yearly increases in visitors, Anchorage still doesn’t have a 5-star hotel. Even so, there are still plenty of sites better suited for a 5-star hotel.

Downtown Anchorage needs new development, we need new hotels and above all else, new housing. We also need to expand the use of our public transportation and it’s not likely that this project will help facilitate that.

The prospect of new development in a city where it’s badly needed is always exciting and it’s easy to get swept up in the optimism but is this the right project, in the right place? The Anchorage Assembly and the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission will need to give final approval for this project. would like to remind you that assembly meetings are open to the public and testimony from the community is encouraged.

Images courtesy of ACDA