Part of Fourth Avenue downtown could become the Anchorage Mushing District, under plans by city officials and area business groups to recognize the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race's ceremonial starting site.

Greater Anchorage Inc. along with the Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, announced their plans Monday for the stretch of Fourth between C and E streets.

"Everything is based on today's start," said Greater Anchorage Inc.'s executive director, John McCleary. "We'll be fundraising through 2020 and 2021. With a successful fundraising push we're hoping to start as early as the fall of 2020."

The idea behind the Mushing District is to recognize mushers and dogs in both the Open World Championship Dog Sled Race, held during Fur Rendezvous, and the Iditarod. Signs, banners and plaques would be on display to honor past great mushers.

"The interpretive program would include bronze plaques or banners on the light poles," McCleary said. "This project is a standalone project, it is not funding Fur Rendezvous; it is funding the Mushing District and telling [the] story of mushing, our state sport."

The crowning element of the Mushing District is a steel truss arch that would stretch across Fourth Avenue near the start / finish line. 

"The Musher Hall of Fame will be directly in our Rondy offices on Fourth Avenue and D Street," McCleary said. "We hope to take that and step it up with brochures and other things people can take home with them."

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has also embraced the idea.

"One of the important things every city needs is iconic architecture, iconic arts and things that are immediately identified with the identity of the city," he said. "We will do things to generate community pride and make sure people who visit our city have more reasons to stay here, which is extremely important for our economy."

Before the project can get off the ground it needs funding: $45,000 to start, and a total of around $650,000 to complete it.

"The business community can help us with sponsorships, but anyone can help for as low as $25 with a Rondy pin," McCleary said.

One way the committee plans to raise money is through sponsored bronze plates that will be inserted into sidewalks and benches. Individuals or families can purchase a bronze plates that includes their names: a bronze dog paw for $300 or a larger dog head that sells for $500.

"We're starting at zero funds," McCleary said. "We need to have developed drawings and all the things the city needs for approvals."

Despite the fiscal obstacles ahead, Berkowitz and local boosters are optimistic about the project's chances.

"I want to thank people for having this vision," Berkowitz said. "I want to assure you the city will do everything it can to get to yes on this project. I recognize the challenges, but there are answers for everything. We can get this done."

"This is really a project by Alaskans, for Alaskans," said former Fur Rendezvous president Beth Helgeson. "It's also for the rest of the world to be a part of dog mushing. It's a visual depiction of our state sport."

Part of the district's vision is expanding the allure of mushing to visitors who may never see sled dogs in Anchorage, let alone visit the Burled Arch in Nome.

"The important thing is that the summer tourist will have an experience that they can run the course with the dog paws," McCleary said. "We're going to be able to share this aspect in summer. It's an experience summer visitors never get and we're going to try and tell the story. Also, mushers will get to start at the arch and finish at an arch."

So far, sales for this year's Fur Rendezvous are higher than a year ago and downtown businesses are expecting a banner year. The 2019 Fur Rendezvous starts on Feb. 22. 

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