Block 96 Flats to Bring More Homes to Downtown Anchorage
A ceremonial groundbreaking of the Block 96 Flats at 8th Avenue and K Street: left to right are 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.
More housing returns to Anchorage’s original town site with the construction of a five-floor apartment building in the heart of downtown. A groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of construction on the Block 96 Flats project at 8th Avenue and K Street.
Mayor Dave Bronson helped turn some symbolic dirt along with Mike Robbins, executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority (ACDA), the city department that owns the land. ACDA formed a partnership with Debenham Properties, which is building the apartment complex. That section of downtown, just north of the Delaney Park Strip, has not had any new market-rate housing (that is, non-subsidized) since the ‘80s.
As designed, Block 96 Flats will contain forty-eight apartments, both studio and one-bedroom, renting for approximately $1,100 to $1,500 per month. The architecture gives the building an up-swept roof, like the prow of a Tlingit dugout canoe or a mid-century Googie bowling alley.
The mayor’s office touts the project as the city’s first public-private partnership of its kind. Although the municipality has partnered with private companies and nonprofits in recent years on homeless services, for example, Robbins says Block 96 is different because it’s a connection with a private developer, namely Shaun Debenham.
“In Alaska, it is very expensive to develop, and builders are reticent to take on needed projects,” Robbins says in an email. “By adding ACDA to the equation, you can develop market-rate projects to address that financial gap. Projects are then built and managed by the private sector. This approach increases the tax base and allows the market to act on the upward and downward trends in pricing.” The most productive use of the lot in recent years was hosting the K Street Eats food truck roundup.
Block 96 Flats has a price tag of $11.6 million, up from the original estimate of $6.2 million, back when construction was supposed to start in 2021. ACDA is contributing $1.8 million for the ground-floor parking structure.
Robbins says ACDA helped “bridge the financial gap” in the cost of development. “Without our partnership, Debenham would not have been able to generate a return on investment that would allow him to attract either equity or debt financing to complete the project.”
The mayor’s office has more partnerships in mind. “The Block 96 development is one piece in a larger framework of projects we are helping the private sector advance throughout our great city,” Bronson says. Robbins explains that the other pieces include new housing, hotels, retail, and parking projects for downtown Anchorage, to be announced later, as well as seeking financing for upgrades to the Port of Alaska.
Robbins adds, “This and other projects like it sends a message to the development community that if you want to develop, Anchorage wants you to do it here.”
Anchorage is notoriously low on buildable land, hemmed in by the ocean, the Chugach Mountains, and military bases. That makes redevelopment and in-fill more attractive, as well as denser, more vertical housing. “Projects like this demonstrate the strong support my administration has for development, especially in downtown. Bringing more housing to the center of our city is crucial to attracting and retaining a talented workforce in Anchorage,” the mayor says.
Robbins adds that the city is interested in development everywhere, not just downtown. That includes neighborhoods where high-density apartments might not be the best fit. “It is the answer for downtown and other areas of town,” he says. “We must look at housing density area by area and not assume what will work downtown will work in all areas.”
Where Will They Shop?
The intersection of 8th Avenue and K Street in downtown Anchorage. The Block 96 Flats are located on a lot, shaded in red, next to the Anchorage Health Department.
Putting more housing downtown comes with a slight complication: the central business district contains services mainly for 9-to-5 commuters and seasonal tourists. Where will Block 96 residents shop? Robbins calls it a chicken/egg problem: “Grocers and retailers need more than an 8-hour population to succeed; 24-hour residents need more than 8-hour services. Much thought has been given to attracting grocery, drug, and variety retailers to downtown, but that will only happen when our 24-hour downtown population reaches the point where it can support such stores. ACDA and the administration are focused on finding ways to attract those stores through incentives.”
Downtown is not a total desert, though. New Sagaya City Market is just a few blocks south of the Park Strip. Recently, a retail co-op opened exactly one block away from Block 96, a joint venture of Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop and That Feeling café. Other downtown merchants are stocking sundries for neighborhood residents. Robbins suggests the announcement of Block 96 stimulated those changes.
Debenham Properties submitted a formal construction plan on March 18 to the Development Services Department to begin getting permits in place. Construction is scheduled to begin this spring.
This year the Alaska Railroad is celebrating 100 years of transportation people and cargo around Alaska. While the railroad is one of the states oldest transporters, it certainly isn’t the only one, and in this issue of Alaska Business we also check in on the Marine Highway, Span Alaska, and the White Pass & Yukon Route. For those interested in Southeast, our focus on that region provides updates on Kensington Mine, Tongass FCU, the troll fishery, and Juneau’s growing landfill.