An Ambitious Revitalization Agenda for Downtown Anchorage

A new mayoral administration in Anchorage has its sights set on a revitalized urban core, but one local researcher has suggestions for how to expand that vision.

2 minute read

September 8, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Downtown Anchorage with the snow covered Chugach Mountains in the background.

Daniel Case / Shutterstock

"A world-class urban center in Alaska’s largest city has long been the Holy Grail for Anchorage leaders," writes Jeanette Lee, senior researcher for Sightline, who worlds from Anchorage.

The city's new mayor, Dave Bronson, has prioritized investments in the downtown neighborhood of Anchorage in pursuit of that "holy grail," according to Lee. There's a lot going on in downtown Anchorage—during the summer. "What no one has managed to figure out, though, is how to keep the downtown economy humming like it’s always the peak of summer, when office workers, other Alaskans, and tourists are dining out, buying things, and paying for lodging in the downtown core," writes Lee.

Since his transition into office, Mayor Bronson has focused on downtown as a key driver of economic revitalization: "His team wants a vibrant year-round business environment and intends to focus on supporting tourism, filling office space, and boosting retail sales." Lee suggests, however, that Bronson needs to be more ambitious in attracting new residents to downtown—a trend toward urban population growth that has skipped over Anchorage while changing the face of many downtowns around the country.

High construction costs are the primary hurdle facing the task of adding more residential population—not demand—according to Lee.

The city has put in place some policies to encourage housing downtown, including tax abatement and letting developers choose how much parking to build, but it can do more. A few suggestions include partnering with developers to invest in projects; incentivizing housing builds on downtown’s numerous surface parking lots and other underdeveloped properties; mitigating offsite construction costs; zoning reform; and attracting foundational neighborhood businesses, like a grocery store. 

Lee provides a lot more detail on the challenges facing a downtown revitalization in Anchorage. Drilling down on each of the earlier and suggested actions listed in the preceding paragraph.

Monday, August 30, 2021 in Sightline Institute

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