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Mayor Bronson asks Anchorage Assembly to approve $15 million appropriation for ‘navigation center’

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 7:47 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In recent weeks, Mayor Dave Bronson has met with Anchorage Assembly members both publicly and privately seeking necessary support for his plan to build a mass shelter to house people experiencing homelessness.

After officially taking office, Bronson and his team met with them again Tuesday to discuss his upcoming request for funding for what the administration calls a “navigation center” — a facility providing 24-hour shelter coupled with referral services to Anchorage’s unhoused population, with an estimated construction cost of $15 million.

The proposed navigation center site is a lot near the former Anchorage Police Department headquarters off Elmore Road near Tudor Road and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The project comes with a tight timeline, as the emergency shelter inside the Sullivan Arena will be closing to return the venue for the hockey season — a deadline with an Alaska winter on its heels.

“The deadline we’re looking at is winter,” Bronson said Tuesday. “This is an emergent situation. We’ve got to come up with answers quick, we’ve got to come up with the solution even quicker. And it’s not the best way to do business, but it, right now, it’s the only way to do this. We’ve got to move forward, or people are going to freeze. It’s that simple.”

Anchorage homelessness coordinator Dr. John Morris said Tuesday that buying the structure itself and shipping materials will cost $5.3 million, with construction estimated to cost $10 million. He identified funding sources as remaining CARES ACT funds that have been moved into the city’s fund balance, funds for Parks and Recreation beetle kill mitigation and Maintenance and Operations fleet inventory.

Assembly members asked for additional cost information, including operating costs and a specific cost breakdown for the project’s construction.

“I hear you throwing out the numbers, but it sounds like this is a base cost and my concern is with costs are going to go up, and up, and up, and up, and I don’t see anything actually itemized,” said assembly member Jamie Allard. “Mr. Dunbar had referred to furniture, you said that there were walls, but there’s a lot that goes into building this facility in the inside. Can you break it down a little bit more?”

Morris said he could break down the cost of the structure itself, but not the construction. The cost of furnishing the facility is not included in the estimate.

“We would love to give them all the specificity that we can, but without the numbers, we’re just going on the estimates that we’re getting from contractors,” Bronson said. “We’re giving everything we can. We’re asking all the questions, you know, in these private meetings with the subs and with the contractors, but until there’s (a request for proposals) process, we can’t do that.”

He said assembly members are asking the same questions he would ask if he were in their position.

During the meeting, Craig Campbell, Bronson’s chief of staff, said the administration would like the assembly to make a decision without providing an opportunity for additional public input.

“This is an appropriation that we’re asking you to take action on without a public hearing,” Campbell said.

Assembly members wanted to know what the administration’s alternative plan is, should the body decide against the appropriation.

“If it’s not approved, we will go into a smaller size,” Campbell said. “We will try to meet the needs, but there will be people left unserved in this community.”

During a limited opportunity for public testimony, Midtown resident Jen Ireland questioned the urgency of the request, absent details on how the project would be successful.

“I don’t understand saying, if we don’t just like move forward with this giant project with very few details immediately, like, people will die this winter. To me that seems like a hostage situation... I keep hearing like, ‘what’s the day to day operations going to look like, what are the services actually going to be, it’s like oh we’ll figure that out, we’ll figure that out, what’s the the outreach going to be, we’ll figure it out.’ I feel like that’s like, it’s not the building that makes it work or not, it’s like all those details,” said Ireland.

Some assembly members have favored a plan previously in motion to purchase the old Alaska Club building in Midtown with the intention of repurposing it into a homeless shelter. That proposal would have cost about $5.4 million for the building purchase and would have housed 125 people. According to assembly member Meg Zaletel, Bronson must make a decision on whether to go through with the deal on Friday.

“I am hoping that as we continue to explore this plan, we don’t take away the option of the Alaska Club, because it is something that is geared up,” she said. “I think it’s something that may not fully meet our needs, but it will get us a long ways there in addition to ... helping the established shelters come up ... We’ve got to have Plan B if we don’t move forward with this.”

When asked about what he will do on Friday, Bronson said he had not yet decided, but that even if he goes through with the purchase, he does not plan to use it for a shelter. He said he isn’t against using it as an option for dispersing services.

“We’re really looking at one shelter,” he said.

Tuesday evening, midtown assembly members Zaletel and Felix Rivera issued a statement urging Bronson to approve the purchase of the Alaska Club facility.

“Without the Alaska Club, Mayor Bronson is forcing the Assembly into a no-win scenario,” said Rivera in the emailed release. “I’ve heard many times that this new administration wants to work with the Assembly to solve the problems of our city. Removing the Alaska Club from the negotiating table is tying one arm behind our backs.”

The Bronson administration’s written appropriation request for $15 million is expected to be filed by Friday.

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