Can a new housing development help pave the way for commercial growth in Downtown Anchorage?

Elizabeth Place, a mixed-income apartment development in Downtown Anchorage. (Photo credit Ken Graham)

A new apartment building in the heart of Downtown Anchorage may be the key to unlocking further growth in the neighborhood, developers say. 

Elizabeth Place, named after Alaska Native civil rights champion Elizabeth Peratrovich, was built via a public-private partnership between Cook Inlet Housing Authority, the Municipality of Anchorage and half a dozen other agencies and organizations. It’s the first major downtown housing development to open its doors in more than a decade. 

Carol Gore, CIHA president and CEO, said a wave of interest in the project shows the scope of demand for housing in this part of town.

“Hopefully our experience — being the first in in a very, very long time — we can offer some perspective and experience on who lives there,” she said.

The building is located at the northwest corner of 7th Avenue and I Street, blocks from Anchorage City Hall. It features works by Alaska Native artist Danielle Larsen, 2,680 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 50 apartment units, 38 of which are subject to income restrictions.

So far, Gore said the housing authority has received rental applications from everyone from seniors to families to young single people with jobs in the neighborhood. 

Andrew Halcro, executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, says that’s the first step toward building a more vibrant downtown.

“There hasn’t been any new housing built in the core of downtown in over 30 years, and what that means is there hasn’t been anything for other developers to gauge as far as what the market will pay,” he said.

The construction of Elizabeth Place changes that. The building offers studio, 1 and 2-bedroom apartments with rents ranging from $735 – $1,425 per month. So far, demand is steady. The development has received more than 150 rental applications already. More than a dozen households have already moved in. 

That kind of valuable market information could help facilitate more residential construction, Halcro said, and residential construction leads to commercial growth. 

“You look at every single area in this city that has grown in the last 20 years — East Anchorage, the Muldoon area, South Anchorage — it’s all driven by gains in housing,” Halcro said.

The opening of Elizabeth Place is a “groundbreaking” milestone for Downtown, he said. 

It wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration between multiple different partners, according to the housing authority. Land downtown is limited and expensive, Gore said, so developing the apartments meant working with the municipality to secure the lots to build. The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, R4 Capital, KeyBank, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, the Rasmuson Foundation and the CIRI Foundation all helped complete the project.

But Gore said she believes the effort will have long-term benefits for the community. The initial response to Elizabeth Place’s opening shows the demand is there, she said. People want to live Downtown — they just need the opportunity to do it.

“It’s going to be interesting to share that perspective, and hopefully it attracts more investment to downtown,” she said. “I think it will.”

Kirsten Swann is a producer and reporter for Alaska Public Media.

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