What’s next for east Anchorage mega-project after bus barn hiccup
Last month, people in east Anchorage created such a ruckus over a proposed bus barn in their backyard, they got the attention of the mayor, who decided not to build it there. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that the proposed bus barn is part of a nearly $200 million development project that can’t happen without a new spot for the barn.
On September 21, a long line of residents from the North East Anchorage and Scenic Foothills Community Councils sounded off on a proposed plan to move 120 buses and a barn for Bartlett and East High Schools to a plot of land owned by the Anchorage School District, right next to Totem Movie Theatre on Muldoon Road.
Some of the comments included,"We’re not happy and there’s a lot of us out there who are not happy,” and, “The east side never gets enough credit. We feel like we’re 2nd rate citizens around here."
Just a few days later, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz killed the proposed site.
“We have a public process the public spoke up and it’s a meaningful public process and so we’ve adjusted our plans accordingly,” said the mayor.
Now, a team made up of people from the Municipality of Anchorage, the Anchorage School District and a developer are charged with finding a new location. That’s because the land the current bus barn sits on, at Tudor and Elmore, is part of a multi-million dollar deal that includes a land swap and tax breaks.
Developers David Irwin and Mark Lewis want to build a 70,000 square-foot complex that includes apartments, townhomes, a grocery store, retail space and a hotel, in exchange for 13 acres of city land and tax breaks. They would also knock down the city’s Department of Health and Social Services Building at 8th and L Street downtown and build apartments for seniors that include solar panels, a café, a medical facility and a spot to rent cars. They’d build a new DHHS building at the Tudor and Elmore complex.
“The current building we’re in is so old that it costs us an almost extra $600,000 to $700,000 in order to keep that facility operational and getting out of that building is an important consideration,” says Berkowitz.
Under the plan the Anchorage Assembly passed last summer, the bus barn would have been torn down and re-built at the Tudor and Elmore Road site. However, the Director of Economic and Community Development says a few months later, it became clear that wasn’t an option. He says their focus now, is to make sure it goes somewhere that works for everyone.
“Does it work for ASD operations, they have to service eastside schools and certain needs when it comes to getting buses in and out and how does it fit in with the neighborhood,” says Christopher Schutte.
Both Schutte and Mayor Berkowitz say this is just a small hiccup in a long road to see this project break ground. They call it a win for both the developer and the city: the developer, of course, gets the profits, but the Muni gets a new DHSS building, hundreds of units of affordable housing, a grocery store on a side of town the mayor calls “food poor” and doesn’t have to pay for any of it upfront with cash.
“It’s really important for Anchorage to make progress for us to do what we can to stimulate the economy and take care of some of the needs the community has and this project does that,” said Berkowitz.
Right now, the most pressing step to move forward is finding a new site for the bus barn. At first, the group was only considering land owned by the Muni or the Anchorage School District. However, the search has now expanded to state and privately owned land.
The Muni has until March of 2018 to enter into a contract with the developer before the terms of agreement expire.