Anchorage mayoral candidate Dan Coffey has entered the fight to stop properties in the Government Hill neighborhood of Anchorage from being razed in preparation for a potential bridge that would span from the neighborhood. Coffey is adding his voice the voices of a handful of state Democratic officials and community activists, including Rep. Les Gara and Sen. Johnny Ellis, in calling for a halt of the demolition.
On Thursday, Coffey emailed Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration, urging them to hold off on the demolition until funding sources needed to build the bridge are secure. He plans to continue to communicate with the administration about the project.
“It makes no sense what so ever to tear down those properties when there is a housing crisis in the community,” Coffey said. He’s made affordable housing one of the big issues in his nascent campaign.
One boarding house, one residential home, and one 32-room hotel are slated for destruction. All told, the state has spent about $3 million acquiring the properties. On July 3rd, the Department of Transportation issued a press release announcing that it will begin to solicit bids to demolish those properties.
When the state bought the properties, they were occupied. Now they’re empty. DOT says that it would be too complicated to get them ready to rent out. However, DOT is no stranger to the rental business. Among the properties that DOT rents is the strip club Good Time Charlie’s on the Kenai Peninsula. DOT bought that property in 1991, when it planned to widen the highway which never got widened. The state paid $249,000 for it then and still only charges $2,490 a year.
Like the widening of the highway, it’s far from guaranteed that the Knik Arm Bridge will come to fruition. The project, the most recent incarnation of which, has been a decade in the making, is now dependent on a $300 million federal loan. It’s a loan that has been turned down repeatedly throughout the years,
In the meantime, Coffey thinks that a rental management company should take over the properties. “There no reason to demolish the properties until they get funding for the bridge,” he said.
Coffey is no stranger to the debate. He has worked with the state to keep it from forcing businesses in the neighborhood—a Tesoro Gas Station and a Subway– to close in advance of the bridge. He was able to do so because the businesses were on Alaska Railroad property.
Bob French, who lives in the neighborhood and has long been an opponent of the bridge, welcomes Coffey into the debate. “He’s a voice of reason that a lot of people should listen to,” French said.
He also said that he is meeting with community members to come up with a strategy. One idea that the community has discussed is lying down in front of bulldozers. That, of course, is a dramatic last resort.
One of the smaller houses slated for destruction is the former home of Anchorage writer Charles Wohlforth. The house, built in the 1950s, was designed to look like a picture from a house that was featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Wohlforth said. Wohlforth lived in the 2,400 square foot house for 14 years. He moved out in 2002. He and his family completely gutted and remodeled it. They tore down and sheet-rocked walls and ceilings. They put in the fireplace, and a banister. They redid the bathrooms. He built a new Arctic entry. Cherry wood flooring covers much of the house. Former Rep. Pete Kott redid the floors after about 10 years of use.
Now it sits empty.
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