Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson delivered his annual State of the City address Monday, after a rough week of snow-related disruptions and criticism. He spoke about homelessness, housing, port infrastructure and energy security.
But Bronson led with the issue that he said was on everyone’s mind.
“I know that many of you have been frustrated as the snow has impacted your daily lives, your businesses, our schools and the safety of our roads,” he told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. “I hear you loud and clear, I agree with you. Trust me, I really do hear you.”
Bronson rehashed points he’s made in other public forums: It was a record snowfall, the city’s budget for snow removal is getting a bump, and that the city scaled up the snow removal effort with contractors this year much quicker than it did after the paralyzing snow dump of last December.
“My team remains committed to improving our response to these extraordinary weather events in the months ahead,” he said. “We have a lot of winter to go.”
Amid the challenges the city is facing, Bronson painted a picture of urban renewal.
“The heart of our city, downtown Anchorage, is finally emerging from the challenges we faced during the pandemic, undergoing a renaissance with the establishment of the mushing district, and significant business developments that bring energy and vitality to our urban core,” he said. “People are coming back to downtown Anchorage.”
Parking downtown was up 30% and thousands of people flocked to the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts to see a world class production of the musical “Hamilton,” Bronson said. He welcomed the oil and gas company Santos into its newly renovated high-rise building on Fifth Avenue.
That narrative of a downtown renaissance doesn’t fit with the one captured in a microcosm by Kaladi Brothers’ announcement on Friday that it was closing a downtown cafe due to “safety issues.” The Anchorage coffee mainstay plans to shutter its location at the Performing Arts Center Dec. 1 after operating there for 18 years.
“Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of our staff and customers, and while we have put forth our greatest efforts in mitigating the safety issues that affect them, we no longer feel that we can responsibly operate within this space,” the business said on its Facebook page.
Kaladi Brothers’ co-owner told the Anchorage Daily News the safety concerns included disruptive and intoxicated people.
There were more than 200 comments, with many people expressing anger and sadness, some blaming politics for a downtown in decline.
Assembly Chair Chris Constant sat at the front for the mayor’s address Monday. While Constant and the mayor are often politically at odds, he said he agrees with Bronson’s comments about downtown investments, that there is hope and optimism for downtown Anchorage.
The idea that downtown is in decline is a perception fueled by fear, Constant said.
“And it makes it hard for you as a business owner to proceed, especially when you have some critical incidents occurring and you don’t feel heard, you don’t feel like the response has been up to what you need to keep your workforce and your business safe,” he said.
Constant represents downtown on the Assembly and said the key to stopping that perception is to have effective policing, which he said has been hindered by high vacancy rates in the Anchorage Police Department.
Constant and Bronson both said a pay raise in the works for Anchorage police officers is a positive step.