By Tracy Kalytiak
Just a few decades ago, Mountain View was a thriving, diverse community. Businesses served the Elmendorf Air Force Base workers and others living in the area’s homestead structures and single-family homes. Years passed, and apartments and multi-family structures rose to accommodate an influx of pipeline workers. When those workers left, the area began deteriorating. By the 1990s, Mountain View looked worn, neglected — its name frequently paired with incidents sparked by crime and poverty.
Cook Inlet Housing Authority, or CIHA, took notice, launching an energetic movement to revitalize not only Mountain View but also troubled areas of Muldoon, Spenard, Fairview and downtown Anchorage. We talked with Mark Fineman, CIHA’s vice president for development and project management, about its mixed-use development projects, which create walkable neighborhoods that situate homes for people of varying incomes near schools, libraries and businesses.
Q: What first prompted this idea to create MUDs in Anchorage?
A: The first mixed-use development we built was back in 2007 in Mountain View, which was really the first neighborhood we focused on significantly in terms of revitalization and community development. We focused many years, over 14 years, in that neighborhood. We’d buy vacant parcels or lots with dilapidated homes and build new residential units, single-family homes or duplexes. We also purchased some parcels on Mountain View Drive that allowed for residential and commercial development as well, as part of community development and revitalization.
CIHA’s first mixed-use development was Park Place Village in 2007, with three retail spaces, right on the commercial corridor. We built another mixed-use development across the street in 2011, Mountain View Village Lofts. Both developments are anchors on Mountain View Drive on that commercial corridor.
The community development in the area had sort of slowed, and businesses had moved out. There was no local bank; other services were not present there in Mountain View. We made this strategic vision to provide space not only for housing but for businesses to move in as well, to act as a catalyst for bringing in other businesses. Credit Union 1 moved in, the library was renovated, Red Apple (Market) renovated their exterior. In talking with residents, and community members in Mountain View, all this development stimulated the community, and others, to also do work on their properties.
CIHA looks at ourselves as more than a housing developer; we’re a community developer. You can do so much through housing, through providing resident engagement services, and also through providing space for local businesses to operate and thrive. So that’s part of what we see as our mission — not just in Mountain View but in Anchorage: expanding mixed-use developments.
Q: How much development did it require in Mountain View to achieve change?
A: We touched many lots in Mountain View; more than 10 percent of the residential lots we developed on or have been involved in a development working with community partners like the Anchorage Community Land Trust. We felt that was enough in terms of being a catalyst. Our intent was not to take over a neighborhood but provide affordable housing and be a catalyst for community development, let the neighborhood take care of itself, and others in the neighborhood to follow that momentum. We weren’t looking to completely redevelop; we wanted to strategically identify for redevelopment the most challenging homes and parcels — provide a spark for redevelopment there, both in residential and commercial — then refocus our efforts elsewhere.
The homes we purchased were usually boarded up, and at the end of their useful life. The challenge is when someone buys property like that, there’s the cost of demolishing the old structure in addition to building. That makes it challenging for a person wanting a new home to buy the site because there was always a cost associated dealing with old septic cribs, buried fuel tanks, etc. So there is not just the cost of a new building but the cost for demo, remediation of an underground tank. Our goal was for other property owners to follow that lead and that has happened.
Q: Where did CIHA focus its efforts after Mountain View?
A: Muldoon was next. We’ve done some work in Fairview and Spenard, but our largest projects were in Muldoon. In particular, we focused on Creekside Town Center, in an area that used to be a mobile home site that was purchased by a private developer who reached out to partner with us to build residential.
Q: How did development progress there?
A: Our first development there was the Grass Creek Village multifamily development. That 68-acre mobile home parcel was replatted into different lots. Some bordered Debarr Road, where there’s a Walgreens, BurgerFi and Krispy Kreme. The first step after the mobile home park was removed was to do some remediation work and also restore South Fork Chester Creek, which was more of a public-private project with the State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage. Area photos from the 1950s- 1960s show undeveloped land with a meandering creek, then you see pictures of a mobile home park going up, and the creek looks more like a channel, a straight line. Then it became more of a ditch. It wasn’t fully flowing anymore; people threw their trash in it. There were muddy, rusty barrels. The city-state public-private partnership restored the creek. Now what you see is a creek with water flowing, fish swimming up and spawning — a revitalized creek with wildlife, waterfowl, fish.
Q: What structures went up on these replatted parcels?
A: Begich Middle School was built in one of the sites; Grass Creek Village was built on another, which has 80 multifamily units. Since then, we’ve built other developments: Creekview Plaza, a total of 49 senior units. Now there are families and seniors living together in a multigenerational development. One of the Creekview Plaza buildings is a mixed-use development, with retail on the ground floor occupied by Vera Whole Health, a health clinic for Muni(cipality of Anchorage) employees that’s a great benefit to the city. We’re also building 56 additional units along Muldoon, including another mixed-use development that will be done this fall. Just south of Creekview Plaza will be two more senior buildings, which are under construction.
Neeser Construction is the general contractor for the new 56-unit development. Another local builder, The Petersen Group, has purchased lots in Creekside Town Center and is developing townhomes for sale, which is something they’ve been doing for a couple of years now. It’s another type of housing product in this area, which makes it a really unique community development.
Q: And then you began developing property in the Spenard area?
A: We had some opportunities come up in our neighborhood. The old PJ’s club was a Spenard institution that’s been here for decades, a bar and strip club. U.S. marshals repossessed it, and we bought it at a live auction in the parking lot across the street from our main office, with the intent of building a mixed-use development there. That project, 3600 Spenard, was completed last year. It has retail and some residential units on the first floor with two additional stories (33 residential units total) of multifamily housing. The residential units are fully leased up. One of our affiliates, Cook Inlet Lending Center, has moved into half of the retail space, and we’re in discussions with local businesses to lease the remainder. Another Spenard property we also purchased across the street from PJ’s was an old gas station, using an EPA Brownfields grant to assess and remediate this site. It will probably be another mixed-use development. That’s in the future. We don’t have a formal plan yet, but it’s in our development pipeline.
Q: What is the status of the mixed-use development project planned for downtown?
A: We’re trying to finalize the Elizabeth Place mixed-used development (on Seventh Avenue), in terms of getting all the funding in place. Our plan is to break ground in the fall or late summer on a four-story, 50-unit development with residential and some retail on the first floor, with ground-floor residential units set back to give residents privacy. There are a number of funders involved. Four lots were replatted into a larger parcel. Three of these lots were owned by the city, the last owned by a private individual. It will be our first downtown project, and we’re very excited about it. We’ve had strong support from the city to provide workforce housing downtown along with some retail space — whether it’s a little market, whatever makes the most sense for that space when it opens. This development will be built by Cornerstone General Contractors. In terms of unit count, there will be studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. The building will also have alternative energy, photovoltaic panels, to reduce electrical utility usage.
Q: What else is ahead?
A: In Mountain View we purchased Marina Karina, two 10-plexes located off Price Street and Thompson Avenue that we believe the original builder named after his daughters in the 1960s. Those buildings were unfortunately well-known for having a lot of 911 calls and disturbances. We were able to purchase these buildings late last year, following our model of buying the most distressed properties. Our plan is to have them renovated and leased by fall of next year
Q: How would you describe your big-picture goal with these projects?
A: What it really comes down to is community development and providing different types of housing in a neighborhood that attracts the different demographics we have living in the community, including having spaces where people can gather and interact, play, listen to music, visit a farmers market or crafts fair. … This allows people of different ages, different backgrounds to interact with and learn from each other. We think that makes for a healthier and more vibrant community.
For our developments, it’s been transformative to see how people interact in the space, live in the space, see the different types of households that are there, including renters and owners, and businesses that are there. The community development builds on itself. People living at Creekside Town Center are within essentially walking distance of all these businesses, food stores, banks, health clinic. Even if they’re not integral to the building, with this town center model, these services essential to daily life are very close by in a walkable setting. This area is also close to the bus routes. As it’s tough not to have the use of a car here in Anchorage, especially in the winter, these mixed-use developments alleviate that pressure.
Tracy Kalytiak is a freelance writer from Palmer.