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Block 96 Flats Opens in Downtown Anchorage

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Featured, News, Real Estate

Block 96 Flats took two years to construct, ending a drought of market-rate rental housing in Downtown Anchorage.

Anchorage Community Development Authority

Who is renting apartments in Block 96 Flats, the first market-rate housing built in Downtown Anchorage in more than fifteen years? “We have bartenders and waitresses and nurses. Computer managers and government workers. You name it,” says developer Shaun Debenham. “It’s the working people of Anchorage that are moving into this building.”

“Affordable Luxury”

At an opening ceremony at the end of March, almost two years to the day since groundbreaking, Debenham noted that half of the units had been leased in the first few weeks, and he expected the rest to fill up before the end of April. He thanked the designers and builders and Northrim Bank, which financed the $11.6 million project. He also recognized his father, Ray Debenham, who started the Debenham Properties development firm.

“In the ‘60s he built a four-plex,” the son recalled. “We’ve come a long way from a four-plex to a forty-eight-plex, and I really appreciate his mentorship, support, and love.”

The five-story building at Eighth Avenue and K Street contains forty-eight studio and one-bedroom apartments. Debenham says that scale helped lower the price point, from a typical $2,100 per month apartment to $1,525. To let renters spread out, common areas include a welcoming lobby, a second-floor recreation room with restaurant-style booth seating, and an outdoor terrace. Debenham calls it “affordable luxury.”

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Most new rental housing in Anchorage lately has been subsidized and restricted to low-income tenants; Block 96 is not, and that sets it apart. Debenham counts less than 100 market-rate rental units built in the city in the last eighteen years. His firm alone is responsible for 54 of those, thanks to The Residences at Northwood off Raspberry Road. Block 96 is the firm’s first investment in the Downtown area.

Although the units are not subsidized, the project is the result of a public-private partnership. The land has been owned by the Anchorage Community Development Authority (ACDA) since 2012, and a Brownfields grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2019 helped sweeten the deal. In 2021, Debenham signed a lease and committed to develop housing on the property.

Mayor Dave Bronson looks forward to similar partnerships. “We’re working real hard to free up as much real estate controlled by the municipality to create these kinds of projects,” he says.

ACDA Executive Director Mike Robbins credits Debenham with taking a big risk. Robbins says, “With Block 96, we’re not just building apartments; we’re laying down the foundation for our city’s future. This project underscores our unwavering commitment to supporting development that benefits all Anchorage residents.”

ACDA contributed $1.8 million for the ground-floor parking structure. Further public support came in the form of a property tax incentive and an ACDA loan option approved by the Anchorage Assembly.

“Walkable Ethos”

Block 96 Project

The groundbreaking in 2022 featured (left to right) architect Evelyn Rousso, a member of the mayor’s Economic Revitalization and Diversification Committee; ACDA Executive Director Mike Robbins; developer Shaun Debenham; and Mayor Dave Bronson.

Carter Damaska

The project still had to pinch pennies where it could. For instance, the architect originally conceived an up-swept roof, like the prow of a Tlingit dugout canoe or a mid-century Googie bowling alley, but that flourish had to be deleted.

“Just too expensive,” Debenham explains. “We actually had the awnings on site and decided not to install them.”

Not only does Block 96 Flats add to the citywide inventory of market-rate rental housing, but it signals the return of residential addresses to Downtown. Bronson says the “walkable ethos” of the central business district is especially attractive to young professionals.

“They want to come in and have that Downtown experience. They don’t want a big house and big garage in the suburbs with all the toys,” the mayor says. “That’s my kinda thing.”

Not that everyone renting in Block 96 is a young urban professional. “We’re getting a lot of military, government workers that work Downtown,” Debenham says. “We have a physician in the building. I feel we have a really nice mix.”

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The track of oil and gas development in Alaska shows the footprints of bold companies and hard-working individuals who shaped the industry in the past and continue to innovate today. The May 2024 issue of Alaska Business explores that history while looking forward to new product development, the energy transition for the fishing fleet, and the ethics of AI tools in business.

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