Dozens of new townhomes are going into Downtown Anchorage. It's part of a project that's being praised by both the mayor and the governor.

The site, on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Christensen Drive, used to house a government storage facility. That structure was demolished Wednesday as part of a groundbreaking ceremony. 

The new Downtown Edge housing complex is breaking ground in other ways -- the project is a first for Anchorage and Alaska. It's the first time the Alaska Railroad has been able to lease land for residential use. 

City and state officials hope this could be the start of a new chapter, in which other developers will follow suit. Getting to the point where the project was ready to break ground meant changing state law.

Prior to the project, the Alaska Railroad could only lease land in 55-year increments. That's since been changed to 95 years, which would give condo owners more peace of mind. 

Dozens gathered at the site Wednesday morning to celebrate the project's progress. 

"This is a sign that Downtown is on the way to being revitalized-- that when more people live in this part of the city, we're going to have more activity," Mayor Ethan Berkowitz told the crowd. 

Thirty-five new townhomes will be constructed this summer, sandwiched between the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and Ship Creek.

"I like to tell people that you can walk from here to Sagayas and buy a fish, or you can walk down to Ship Creek and catch a fish," said Bob Petersen, president of Petersen Group, the complex developer. "It's going to be very convenient."

While the condos are going up for sale, the land underneath them still belongs to the Alaska Railroad. The condo association will pay an annual fee to lease the land for the next 95 years.

"This is why it's not a concern for most people is 95 years is a long way away," Petersen said. "The reality is probably the Legislature will change the rules and they'll allow the railroad to sell their property and the condo association would buy it."

While this kind of agreement has become more common in other states, this is the first of its kind in Alaska. If all goes well, the railroad hopes to lease even more land to stable tenants, like housing associations.

"If you want to keep your railroad around, you've got to keep us healthy because we go up and down also with the economy," said Jim Kubitz, vice president of Real Estate and Facilities for the Alaska Railroad. "The real estate tends to be much more steady, long-term income."

Construction will continue on Downtown Edge throughout the summer. Petersen says the first round of homes should be move-in ready by January. Condos start at just over $400,000.

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