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City once again in negotiations to buy former Alaska Club for new homeless shelter

Acting mayor’s plan would transition people out of Sullivan Arena by this fall
Published: May. 21, 2021 at 2:34 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 5:22 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Municipality of Anchorage is once again pursuing the purchase of the former Alaska Club building on Tudor Road to create a new homeless shelter, and hopes to transition people currently staying in the Sullivan Arena to other locations by this fall.

The city and Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced its updated plans Friday morning, writing in a press release that the plan would allow the Sullivan Arena to return to its normal use by the end of August. There are currently around 400 people sleeping at the arena nightly, according to the city.

The arena’s use as a shelter is part of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than 700 people are being housed currently through a combination of the arena, hotels and other non-congregate shelters. This response has been funded through FEMA, and the 100% match for those funds are set to expire on September 30, according to the city.

“Emergency shelter has saved lives over this past year,” said Bob Doehl, incident commander of the city’s Emergency Operations Center, in the press release. “But without a long-term plan based on more sustainable funding sources, Anchorage is poised to see a mass influx of people experiencing homelessness on our streets and greenbelts this fall.”

And so, the city is once again looking to purchase the former Alaska Club building in Midtown. It had identified this building as an option last year, a proposal that drew significant push back from some in the city. Ultimately, the city called off the purchase after discovering additional costs for roof replacement, plumbing repairs and foundation damages that made the move no longer fiscally sound.

The city renegotiated for $1.4 million less than the original offer, according to the release. The final price of the former Alaska Club building, with closing costs, will be $5.436 million, according to a presentation city administration gave during a Friday press conference. The goal is that it would be ready for use by September.

“The property owners were committed to addressing homelessness in Anchorage and came back to the Municipality with a better offer, including a lower purchase price and cost-saving opportunities for the needed repairs and renovations,” the release states.

But not everyone is excited about the pending purchase.

“It’s a bit irritating because it feels like they’re not listening to us,” said Jessica Teague-Beach, who lives near the building. “They’re not taking our concerns, our ideas into account. They’re just trying to do what they want.”

According to the release, the city has officially entered into a new purchase agreement with the Alaska Club building property owners. That transaction has a closing date of July 9.

This leaves the ultimate decision on whether to close on the building to the incoming mayor.

While his campaign has not yet declared victory, mayoral candidate Dave Bronson remains in the lead in the runoff election. The city’s election commission is set to meet today to adopt its report on the runoff results, and the Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to certify the election on May 25.

Bronson and candidate Forrest Dunbar, a current member of the assembly, differ greatly in their approach to addressing homelessness in the city. In the past, Bronson has made remarks about getting people experiencing homelessness off Anchorage streets by arresting them. He later clarified in a televised conversation that those remarks were in regard to those experiencing “chronic” homelessness only.

However, Quinn-Davidson said during the press conference that Bronson’s team has began talks with the city about addressing homelessness.

“I’m also very encouraged that Bronson’s transition team has already reached out to begin discussions on homelessness,” she said during the press conference. “And I hope that we will see an continuation of the partnership that was established with Anchored Home, moving us into a private-public sector partnership and a truly well-rounded solution on homelessness in the months to come.”

According to an email from Bronson’s campaign manager Brice Wilkins, Quinn-Davidson had called Bronson Friday to advise him of the purchase plan for the former Alaska Club.

“He will consider this action as he develops his long term strategy to resolve the chronic homeless problem facing Anchorage,” Wilkins wrote.

Doehl detailed the city’s plan for transitioning people out of the Sullivan Arena during Friday’s press conference. Of the roughly 400 people staying there, 150 will be housed via existing case management or a city contract with Housing First Case Management. The city plans to shelter another 90 in existing locations, like community shelters or contracted hotel rooms.

The city plans to shelter 125 people in a new location — what Doehl described as an open, congregate shelter setting similar to the Sullivan Arena. That would be the new shelter in the former Alaska Club. Another 50 people would be transitioned to respite care, according to the city’s plan.

“For those that need shelter, we need to shift our emphasis into reducing time in the shelters and moving on to a more long-term housing solution,” Doehl said. “And when we rehouse those individuals there is some period of time that we’re going to need to follow up to make sure we’re successful and all those things are fitting together.”

“We’ve heard repeatedly from residents that they want to see our streets and greenbelts safe and clear, and see hockey return to the Sullivan Arena,” Quinn-Davidson is quoted as saying in the city press release. “We simply will not get there without standing up a new shelter and, after almost a year of searching, it is clear that this property is not only the best location but a smart investment.”

Correction: This article has been corrected to show that the former Alaska Club building location is in Midtown.

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