Is tearing down the Penney’s garage a mistake?

After failing to find a buyer, city development agency says demolition is imminent.

“Anchorage Died in 1986” proclaimed ACDA Executive Director, Andrew Halcro at a presentation during a Visit Anchorage Luncheon in September. His talk focused on the lack of investment downtown, and the painful loss of Nordstrom which some could argue took away Anchorage’s legitimacy as a “real” city.

When describing the decline of downtown Anchorage, a city full of brutalist concrete monstrosities, there’s one building in particular that everyone can agree is the ugliest thing downtown, the Penney’s garage.

The structure, Anchorage’s first public parking garage was built in 1968, long before the 5th Avenue Mall was built. Connected to the JC Penney store across the street by a second-floor sky bridge it boasts massive square footage of first-floor retail space which has been vacant for the past decade, formerly occupied by the JC Penney Home Store. The garage is owned by JC Penney but operated by ACDA Easy Park – Anchorage’s parking authority.

ACDA has released plans for what would (eventually) replace the Penney’s garage and it appears to be a mix of parking, retail, and housing, they’ve also said the plan could include a hotel. While nothing is official at this point and I generally approve of this type of development, I have some hesitation on this one.

Some might say good riddance, I think we can all agree, it’s big, ugly and the stairwells smell like pee. Although, I think some of its ugliness could be remedied by repainting it for a more modern look (anything but yellow).

In 1991, a woman was killed when the elevator malfunctioned, fellow passengers attempted to stop the elevator but she was crushed between floors.

So, why save it?

Tearing down the garage would mean losing a lot of parking, it’s a huge garage and despite its age and lack of aesthetics, it’s still highly utilized and cannot be replaced. Since the creation of the Town Square Park, height limitations have been placed on the adjacent properties which means that any new parking structure would not be permitted to be as tall as the current building.

Parking in this garage is $1.25/hr with the first hour free, Easy Park’s other mall garage (5th and B) is also $1.25/hr and connected via sky bridge to the 5th Ave Mall. When considering mall parking, it’s easy to forget store employees also need a place to park while working in the mall and losing the Penney’s garage will mean more competition for the spaces in the 5th & B garage.

While I fully support the 2-hour limit on downtown metered street parking, this is not an option for store employees and people that require longer parking terms in the CBD. I abhor the notion of adding more surface lots downtown and generally dislike patronizing them due to their very nature. Easy Park’s surface lot parking fees are $1.25/hr while Diamond Parking and other private surface lots are significantly more expensive.

The garage is in poor condition and requires significant structural work to continue to be useful (and safe) which will undoubtedly be a significant financial undertaking, it would seem demolition is the easy answer. However, considering the strict zoning requirements and the lack of alternative parking options, is it the best answer?

One thought on “Is tearing down the Penney’s garage a mistake?

  1. While I acknowledge the need for employee parking, I know that the Dimond Mall developers have been big supporters of People Mover because they recognize a) it is a reliable and economic way for employees to get to work; and b) it saves surface parking for customers (who could also use public transit to get to the Dimond Mall). The point is, if we focus more energy on useful, reliable, and frequent transit service, it could free up some real estate downtown (and all over town) for development that isn’t focused solely on the automobile. So yeah, tear the fucker down!

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