Fairview residents pitch plan to reshape Gambell corridor
If the residents of Anchorage’s Fairview neighborhood have their way, the Gambell Street portion of the Seward Highway in Anchorage will be getting an extreme makeover in the coming years.
The Fairview Business Association, or FBA, unveiled its plans for renovating the Gambell Street corridor from Third Avenue to 20th Avenue at Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan’s June 12 weekly press conference.
“Over the year’s we’ve done a lot of improvement to (Fairview), but there’s a lot more work to be done,” Sullivan said.
FBA Executive Director and long-time Fairview resident Paul Fuhs said redesigning Gambell Street is the first step of an overall economic revitalization plan for the community.
“(Gambell) is a four-lane road now. We want to make it three lanes with appropriate turn lanes at the intersections,” Fuhs said.
Under the FBA plan, major reconstruction would be done in 2015. The work would be done in conjunction with a $7 million Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities resurfacing project slated for the same stretch of road.
Fuhs said FBA would be looking for a legislative appropriation of about $10 million more to finish the project.
The design concept has been in the works for more than a year, he said. FBA received a $200,000 grant from the state Legislature in 2012 to study traffic flow and draft a design concept. Gambell Street traffic was monitored continuously over a two-week period this spring, which included a graduation ceremony at Sullivan Arena, Fuhs said. It was determined Gambell could handle a lane reduction at current traffic levels.
Officials with DOT will now begin reviewing the plan to make sure it is suitable for future scenarios, DOT engineer Ken Morton said.
“Certainly (FBA) has made the case that the design works acceptably for current traffic,” Morton said. “Will it work with (the Knik Arm bridge) in place? Will it work with Midtown congestion relief in place? I don’t believe that analysis has been done.”
Rick Feller, a spokesman for DOT, said the Gambell Street design is unique because community organizations rarely present the department with such large projects. DOT is also usually tasked with doing the initial study work, he said.
The right-of-way space made available by removing a lane of traffic would be used to widen the six-foot sidewalks to nine feet and add a 3.5-foot space for snow accumulation in winter on both sides of the street, according to the plan. The snow space would also act as a buffer between automobile and pedestrian traffic, Fuhs said.
Gambell Street’s current configuration is four lanes of traffic with sidewalks directly adjacent to the roadway.
Additionally, Fuhs said the hope is to bury electrical lines running along the street during the road reconstruction. He said there are electrical poles now located in the middle of the sidewalk that are safety hazards for cars and pedestrians and don’t comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
City-owned Municipal Light and Power, which manages the Fairview power grid, has a fund for such work.
Fuhs added that the plan has the support of the Fairview Community Council as well.
While the new road design would make walking along Gambell Street more appealing, Fuhs said FBA hopes to work with the Municipality of Anchorage and the state on providing incentives for business development in the Fairview community.
“There isn’t a lot of developable land in the city, and this area is ready for in-fill,” he said.
FBA members want to make Fairview “an extension of downtown,” Fuhs said.
The development plan calls for street-level commercial properties with second- and third-floor apartments. House Bill 50, which allows Alaska Housing Finance Corp. to finance combination commercial and residential properties and was signed by Gov. Sean Parnell June 26, helps advance the plan, Fuhs said.
“A lot of our businesses here say that their employees have a hard time finding affordable housing,” he said.
Fuhs said to further spark development, FBA will be working with the municipal Community Development Authority on possible property tax abatements for private developers in Fairview that have to pay for public utility infrastructure work on their property. Fuhs, a former mayor of Dutch Harbor, said that city forgave property taxes until the utility work was paid off and the program was well received by local businesses.
The tax abatement zone would be between Gambell Street and Ingra Street to the east.
Fuhs said FBA modeled their plan after what the Pearl District Business Association in Portland, Ore., did, turning an old industrial and warehouse district into an upscale business and residential neighborhood.
He said state Sen. Johnny Ellis, who represents the Fairview neighborhood, supports the concept.
Sullivan said community action is vital to improving the health of a city.
“It’s the citizens within the neighborhood that take the lead, take the initiative and then with the cooperative work of the city and in this case with the state with DOT,” he said. “We’re enthusiastic we can make some great things happen.”