A proposed master plan for downtown Anchorage’s Town Square Park, a focal point for the community once plagued by public safety concerns, is now available for public comment before local officials decide whether to implement it.

The 104-page draft document, formally released Friday, is hosted on the municipality’s website. It outlines a renewed concept for the park, which lies between the Alaska Performing Arts Center and the Fifth Avenue Mall but is bounded to the north and south by busy arteries Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

According to the local Federation of Community Councils, if the plan is approved by the municipality’s Parks and Recreation and Planning and Zoning commissions, Parks and Recreation will begin to work on the redesign.

One of the park’s most visible recent changes came in 2016 when municipal crews demolished a fountain that hadn’t worked for years, since gaining a reputation for harboring both criminal activity and homeless people. The fountain has since been replaced by a stage, which hosts high-profile events such as the annual Live After Five series of free summer-evening concerts.

When municipal officials called for comment in 2017 on redesigning Town Square Park, one of their priorities was improving the park’s limited sight lines to make the space feel more safe and inviting.

After years of planning and public input to date, the master plan calls for a park “that is a hub for activity and is safe and family friendly.”

“Looking to the next 20 years, the vision for Town Square Park builds upon the elements that continue to make Town Square Park special,” planners wrote. “Flowers and open space are maintained and enhanced, new desired amenities are added, and flexible spaces that can support a variety of activities are incorporated.”

The master plan chronicles a spike in Anchorage Police Department and Anchorage Safety Patrol calls near Town Square Park from 2013 through 2018, a total of 164 and 254 calls for each agency respectively.

A heat map of perceived public safety concerns in the vicinity of Anchorage's Town Square Park. (From Town Square Park draft master plan)

“Over that same time period, the Anchorage Fire Department (AFD) received 169 calls for emergency services,” organizers wrote. “The number of calls peaked in 2015 at 65, followed by 50 calls in 2016, before falling dramatically in 2017 to just eight calls. The spike in calls in 2015 and 2016 likely correspond to an up-tick in the use of the synthetic drug ‘Spice’ during that time.”

Since those increases, APD and AFD responded to just 19 and 8 calls respectively near the park in 2017. APD’s Community Action Policing team has had input on the park’s proposed revision, which includes the concept of crime prevention through environmental design.

The preferred concept for Town Square Park's redesign. (From Town Square Park draft master plan)

The plan includes expanded lighting, replacement of some aging or dying trees and the addition of a space along the park’s east side to accommodate food trucks. It also calls for the addition of fee-based public restrooms, a feature the park currently lacks. The improvements, estimated at a total cost of $5.4 million, are codified under a vision statement:

Town Square Park is a safe and welcoming destination in the heart of downtown Anchorage where residents and visitors gather year-round for celebration, socializing, cultural exchange and community building.

The Parks and Recreation Commission will review the plan at a meeting on Thursday, June 13 at 6 p.m. It will be held at the Spenard Recreation Center at 2020 W. 48th Ave. Comments on the plan can also be submitted online, or relayed to planner Van Le by email or by phone at 907-646-9659.

Janis Harper contributed information to this story.

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