Downtown redevelopment project “dashes” hopes for Fourth Avenue Theater

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – A developer is planning a $200 million investment in downtown Anchorage in what Mayor Dave Bronson said would be the largest private sector investment since the 1980s, but the redevelopment project also means moving from one to say goodbye to historic downtown landmarks.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Bronson said he believes the Block 41 project has the ability to transform downtown Anchorage. Developer Peach Holdings LLC plans to redevelop an entire block between Fourth and 5th Avenues and F and G Streets.

“The project will include Grade A commercial office space, a hotel, retail space, housing, parking and entertainment venues in the heart of downtown,” Bronson said.

Unfortunately, due to the age and problems plaguing the historic Fourth Avenue Theater, the developer believes the best course of action for the building is demolition, according to Adam Trombley, director of economic & community development.

“The due diligence process uncovered several faults within the building such as lead, asbestos, other hazardous materials, open elevator shafts, faulty building systems such as the boilers and the electrical systems,” Trombley said. “This has led to various issues with building code compliance, as well as seismic issues.”

The Fourth Avenue Theater is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. but that doesn’t stop the building’s owner from demolishing the property, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Groups like Save the Fourth Avenue Theater had hoped Peach Holdings would restore the theater.

“If you don’t know where you’ve been, how do you know where you’re going,” said Trish Neal, president of Preservation Alaska. “There’s a lot of history in historic buildings and the architecture and the history that was part of that structure.”

Neal added it’s “sad” the developers didn’t want to spend the money to restore the theater.

Back in 2018, it was reported that representatives from Peach Investment Corporation stated that it would cost more than $10 million to bring the building up to date, adding that they would not demolish the building. They said they applied for permission to do maintenance there.

At the press conference, Bronson said he understands the historical importance of the building and that it has a lot of personal history for people, but in the end the building is in bad shape.

“We know that this theater, this structure, has a lot of personal history for people — people’s first dates, the first theater, you know it goes back a long time, and as we all know, that’s where construction started in my opinion after 1941 and ended in I think ’44 or ’45,” Bronson said. “It’s got a long history and we’re sensitive to that, but then again it’s unfortunate with the asbestos and the lead and the structural issues. The artifacts are in excellent condition, the problem is the structure itself.”

Trombley added that there was an attempt for the community to buy Fourth Avenue Theater a few years ago, but voters declined. The property was then purchased by Peach Holdings and they worked to find ways to use the building for redevelopment. He said the developer was spending more than $10,000 a month on utilities to maintain the existing Fourth Avenue Theater.

“It was done to keep the building and structure intact, protecting the artwork and interior, and it also gave them time to determine the next steps for the block and what to do with the former Fourth Avenue Theater,” said Trombley called.

In addition, he said people will be pleased to know that there is a plan to preserve parts of the historic theater. He said surveying efforts are underway with the National Park Service to document, record, and preserve artwork, artifacts, and historical elements of the former Fourth Avenue Theater. The facade of the former theater will be recreated using modern and safe building materials and the tent sign will be preserved to create a new sign integrating modern technology.

“Interior murals will be removed, stored and reinstalled after the project is complete,” Trombley said.

Bronson wanted to remind people that projects like Block 41 will create high-paying jobs, grow the economy and broaden the tax base. He believes the 2020s will be a decade of new downtown investment

“Our downtown area should be vibrant and a place where people want to be,” Bronson said. “It’s about time we started seeing cranes in the sky again, construction sites humming and money flowing downtown.”

The Bronson administration said there was no timeline for when demolition would begin, but they said they had developed plans to make significant progress on the project this summer.

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