Downtown redevelopment project ‘demolishes’ hopes for Fourth Avenue Theater

A developer is planning to make a $200 million investment in downtown Anchorage, which would be the largest private sector investment since the 1980s.
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 7:33 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A developer is planning to make a $200 million investment in downtown Anchorage, which would be the largest private sector investment since the 1980s — according to Mayor Dave Bronson — but the redevelopment project will also mean saying goodbye to an historic landmark downtown.

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

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

Sadly, due to age and the problems plaguing the historic Fourth Avenue Theater, the developer feels that the best course of action for the structure is demolition, according to Director of Economic & Community Development Adam Trombley.

“The due diligence process has revealed multiple failures within the building, such as lead, asbestos, other hazardous material, open elevator shafts, failing building systems such as the boilers and the electrical systems,” Trombley said. ”It has led to various building code compliance issues, as well as seismic issues.”

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

”If you don’t know where you have been, how are you going to know where you are going,” President of Preservation Alaska Trish Neal said. “There is a lot of history involved in historic buildings and the architecture and the history that has been a 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 representatives with Peach Investment Corporation stated it would cost more than $10 million to bring the building up to code, and added that they would not demolish the building. They said they applied for the permit to do maintenance there.

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

“We know that that theater, that structure has a lot of personal history for people — people’s first dates, first theater, you know it goes back a long time and as we all know I think construction started in ‘41, and finished I think in ‘44 or 45,” said Bronson. “It has a long history and we are sensitive to that, but then again with the asbestos and the lead, and the structural issues it’s unfortunate. The artifacts are in great shape, the problem is the structure itself.”

Trombley added there was an attempt several years ago for the municipality to purchase the Fourth Avenue Theater but the voters turned it down. The property was then purchased by Peach Holdings, and they worked to finds ways to utilize the building for redevelopment. He said the developer has spent upwards of $10,000 per month for utilities to maintain the existing Fourth Avenue Theater.

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

Additionally, he said people will be pleased to know that there is a plan in place to preserve parts of the historic theater. He said survey efforts with the National Park Service are underway to document, record, and preserve artwork, artifacts, and historical elements of the former Fourth Avenue Theater. The former theaters’ façade will be re-created with modern and safe building materials, and the marquee sign will be preserved to create a new sign that incorporates modern technology.

“Interior murals will be removed, stored, and re-installed upon completion of the project,” Trombley said.

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

”Our downtown should be bustling with life and a place where people want to be,” Bronson said. “It’s time we see cranes in the sky, construction sites humming, and money flowing into downtown again.”

The Bronson administration said there is no timeline yet for when demolition will begin, but they did say they developed plans to make significant progress on the project this summer.

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