The Assembly is scheduled to vote at its meeting Tuesday evening whether to commit about $11 million to finish the fraught project a contractor began last fall. As envisioned, the structure would house an emergency shelter for up to 200 people and navigation services on city land at Tudor and Elmore roads.
If the Assembly approves the funding plan, the facility is unlikely to fully open this winter. Separately, city officials have been working on a plan for sheltering hundreds of people without homes this winter that does not rely on this facility and also does not rely on reopening a mass shelter like the Sullivan Arena. Instead, that plan in progress uses hotels, churches and nonprofits for extra rooms and temporary beds.
Assembly members say they have a lot of unresolved questions about the Tudor and Elmore project. The company Sprung Structures still needs to provide formal documentation that its building is safe under Anchorage’s wind and snow loads. The proposed structure would be built out of aluminum supports and a durable, proprietary fabric. Also, no funding has been identified to pay for the shelter’s operation. And some of the money the administration suggests using to build the project comes at the expense of past Assembly commitments, and still falls short of the $11.4 million to $12.4 million estimate.
“Oh, boy,” Assembly Chair Chris Constant said during a work session Friday. “I have some strong feelings about some of the funding that’s been identified. Promises made to the community that are suddenly being reneged upon. … I’m going to raise some hell on behalf of my constituents.”
Several million dollars have already been spent on the project. The administration told a contractor to start work on it last fall, without proper Assembly approvals. Then the Assembly suspended the project, which led to a $2.5 million settlement with the contractor.
The contractor’s site prep work is still in good shape, according to Lance Wilber, who leads the city’s Economic and Community Development Department. He said construction can pick up where it left off.
“We’ve had the current foundation inspected, the rebar inspected,” he said. “Currently, we can still use it,” he said. “So we don’t have to replace any of that. We just got to build the other three sides and pour the pad.”
He and other administration officials walked the Assembly through a funding proposal for the project on Friday. They want to pool unused federal American Rescue Plan Act money, money previously set aside for the project before it was suspended, and alcohol tax revenue.
Some of the funds are leftover from completed commitments. Others were committed through the regular budgeting process, but never spent. For example, the Assembly set aside $2 million in alcohol taxes for early education and early prevention grants that the Anchorage Health Department didn’t disburse. The Parks and Recreation Department got $400,000 to install Wi-Fi at five recreation centers that went unspent. And about $1 million of federal money is still available out of a $2.5 million grant for removing trees killed by spruce beetles, a wildfire risk.
“What I’m really struggling with is these are policy calls that were already made, and we want to undo them,” Assembly member Meg Zaletel told the administration. “And they were debated. They were part of larger packages and negotiations to really ensure we were addressing a number of priorities within the municipality. … You’re undercutting all the policy calls already made.”
Felix Rivera, who chairs the Assembly Housing and Homelessness Committee, said Tuesday he plans to vote no on the Tudor and Elmore project.
Earlier this year, Rivera and the Assembly set a goal to stand up a permanent, low-barrier shelter by this winter. By June, that target had slipped to the end of the year. Now, Rivera’s looking at next spring.
“I think that’s a discussion that we need to continue to have over the winter, and I think be ready come April, at the end of our emergency cold weather shelter plan, be ready and have a result by then,” he said.
Rivera expects the cold weather shelter plan that relies on hotels, churches and nonprofits to be finalized next month.