What would you do with big blue?

The monstrous blue building known as the 4th Avenue Marketplace is still for sale.

The 78,176 SF retail and class B office building at 333 W 4th Avenue is listed at $5.5M and is currently 2% leased, according to the listing on LoopNet. Across the street to the south is the perenially vacant building which formerly housed Cyrano’s playhouse, The Avenue Bar, Lucky Deli, The Panhandle Bar, and the landmark Big Ray’s Army-Navy store. To the North is a sweeping view of Knik Arm and the Port of Alaska from the upper level, and the building is separated from 3rd Avenue by the Coho Lot, which I’ve discussed in a previous article.

On nearly a full acre of land, a hulking structure is the physical demarcation of downtown Fourth Avenue and an anchor of uncertainty for the East end. Beyond this building lies what feels like a mile of the old Holiday Inn (Aviator Hotel), the backside of the 5th Avenue parking garage, which leads to an area of rag-tag, sporadic development which should have been a thriving downtown neighborhood by now.

Eastward view from 4th Avenue and C Street – Google Maps

Anchorage Public Market Concept

A 2018 proposal by Anchorage Downtown Partnership floated the idea of redeveloping the mall into a local version of Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. The big, red, block letter sign on the renderings is a derivative of the iconic Pike Place sign but, maybe it was meant to be illustrative of the concept than a representation of the design aesthetics. Either way, it still feels like we’re just trying to be like Seattle rather than finding our own way- Anchorage’s stringent sign ordinance wouldn’t allow a sign of that size extending above the roofline anyway.

Anchorage Downtown Partnership

Realistic Transformation

4th Avenue Marketplace in summer 2021 with street improvements in progress – Google Maps

When I asked myself, what would I do with Big Blue I applied the Strong Towns approach:

  • Humbly observe where people in the community struggle.
  • Ask the question: What is the next smallest thing we can do right now to address that struggle?
  • Do that thing. Do it right now.
  • Repeat

The building wasn’t always a pasty blue color, As I recall, it was a sort of dark bronze in a standard ’80s office building theme which in hindsight would be preferable to the current primer blue color with Alsaska themed signage / iconography.

A repaint in dark grey would be a great way to modernize the building with minimal cost. Nobody will ever point and say, that is a great building but, it’s here and there is some real potential to make it useful. When I look at the big windows facing 4th avenue I see potential for apartments – I love apartments with big windows. Adding just a few residential units would significantly change the character of this block. This building would become a true mixed-use building which would be a major boost for the other tenants and nearby businesses (see below). Having some people living in the area would attract more business not only for the new customer base but because more eyes on the street and the presence of neighborhood residents will quiesce some of the uninhibited behavior associated with the area.

Current 4th Avenue Marketplace tenants – LoopNet

What would you do with Big Blue?

I’m not a real estate developer, and you probably arent’ either but, if you’ve spent any time downtown you’ve probably thought about this building and how it could be better, so, what would you do? Get in the comments!

One thought on “What would you do with big blue?

  1. I’ve long thought that the Post Office Plaza and adjoining Sunshine Plaza were better off being demolished. Had the ’64 quake never happened, I imagine this block would look just like the livelier streetscape one block to the west. I therefore favor dividing up the lots and bringing with it developer stipulations (no on-site parking, up to the street, must be mixed-use, 2 or 3 floors minimum).

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