A developer draws up plans for a major redesign project for a block in downtown Anchorage, with a vision for residential and commercial spaces, a hotel and more.

Plans for the project, estimated to cost more than $200 million, also include demolishing the historic 4th Avenue Theater, which was built in the 1940s and has long been passionately advocated by some community members. for its preservation.

“We plan to rebuild (the) facade and exterior marquee of the former 4th Avenue Theater and with modern, sustainable materials as part of the plan,” said brothers Derrick and Terence Chang of Peach Holdings, LLC, a company that owns nearly all of the buildings along the block, said in an email.

The theater’s iconic sign has long hung above the central downtown street, and supporters have lobbied to preserve its exterior as well as the various Alaska-themed artwork inside. interior of the theater in art deco style.

The Changs recently presented their plans to community groups.

The Changs repeatedly declined to be asked about the plans. In an email response to questions from the Daily News, they said the project is envisaged as a mixed-use development, comprising a hotel, offices, retail, housing, car parks and entertainment spaces . They call it “the biggest private investment downtown since (the) 1980s.”

“This project, Block 41 Development, is a reflection of our continued confidence in downtown Anchorage,” they said in the email.

The Chang brothers are the sons of Joe and Maria Fang, who formed a real estate company in Anchorage that, through several companies, owns several buildings in the city, including nearly all of the buildings along 4th and 5th Avenue between G Street and F Street, as well as the Northern Building 15-story Lights 188 on Northern Boulevard des Lumières.

The theater was purchased by Peach Investments in 2009 for $1.65 million. The family also owned the Northern Lights Inn, which they agreed to tear down in 2017 to avoid fines and fire code violations.

“The only economically feasible approach”

While previous demolition permits have raised concerns among community members who feared the loss of the theatre, none have so far materialized and the theater still stands downtown, albeit unoccupied and farm.

Peach had previously proposed another project with similar amenities, but after getting bogged down in tax break issues with the city, the project was stalled. A spokesman for Mayor Dave Bronson declined to comment on current plans.

Now, buildings listed for demolition in a city permit include the theater’s address, as well as several buildings east and west of the theater, including 608, 646, and 650 West 4th Ave., and 413 and 423 G Street corner west.

Most of the block has been designated as a deteriorated area, making it eligible for possible tax breaks.

“Like most downtown buildings, those in Block 41 are outdated, tired, and have inefficient building systems,” they wrote in the email.

The Changs said they determined demolishing the buildings was “the only economically feasible approach.”

The Changs said the next steps for the project are still being determined – they are currently focusing on a multimillion-dollar renovation of the neighboring former Key Bank building on 5th Avenue. They said they were “still working on (a) multi-year process with (the) Municipality of Anchorage,” as well.

According to the Chang brothers, some of the buildings on the 4th Avenue block between G Street and F Street do not comply with the basic regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They said they found lead, asbestos, failing boilers and electrical systems, and seismic issues.

The demolition of buildings on the 4th Avenue side will occur concurrently with a next phase of the city’s street improvement project along 4th Avenue, which will begin in June, the Changs wrote.

Notes taken during a presentation in late March of the project to an economic development group in Anchorage, detailed plans of a hotel built above the fourth level of a parking lot.

“There is hope” that the project can one day be linked via airlift to the nearby Egan Center, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts and Anchorage Police Department buildings, meeting notes say.

A representative of the developers declined to comment on the funding status of the project.

“Once a building is gone, it is gone”

Earlier plans to demolish the theater sparked opposition from some, who cited the building’s iconic architecture and interior artwork. As word has seeped into the new plans in recent days, there have been renewed calls to preserve it.

The theater once held 960 people, decorated in a “pink, chartreuse, and light blue color scheme,” Alison K. Hoagland wrote in the 1993 book, “Buildings of Alaska.”

The ceiling of the theater building features the Big Dipper and a wall in the lobby features a gold leaf Denali mural, according to Hoagland. It was developed by industrialist Austin “Cap” Lathrop and was designed by Seattle architect B. Marcus Priteca. While work on the theater began in 1941, it halted during World War II, before being completed in 1947, according to Hoagland.

“At that time the style was slightly outdated, but fantastic nonetheless,” Hoagland wrote.

Over the past decade, the Changs say they have hired historical experts and consultants to assess the theater. This year they began what they called an “intense” process of preserving and protecting the theater’s art, murals and reliefs.

“We plan to rebuild the facade and exterior marquee of the former 4th Avenue Theater and with modern, sustainable materials as part of the plan,” they wrote.

They said they are also working with the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey Program, “part of a national archival submission to document/record every aspect of the former 4th Building. Avenue,” they wrote.

Heather Flynn, who represented downtown in the Anchorage Assembly in the 1980s and early 1990s, said a plan to maintain interior artwork and murals in the building of the theater would be an act of good faith on the part of the developers, considering how much love the theater is. She said she also understands why, from a development perspective, they wouldn’t be able to sustain the theater in its entirety.

“I think the challenge has always been what to do with it and who pays for it,” Flynn said.

Over the years, advocates have lobbied to preserve the building and expressed serious concerns about its demolition, noting it as both important to the state’s history and culture.

“It has a special place in my heart,” said Cheryl Lovegreen, vice president of Friends of 4th Avenue Theater, a group whose mission is to help others discover theater and work to preserve it. although they haven’t met as a group since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the group has yet to take a position on the new plan, Lovegreen said she is sad to see the building go and hopes the murals will be preserved and displayed somewhere the public can see them.

While she initially hoped the theater building could be saved, Lovegreen said she now assumed it would collapse and has since shifted her concerns from saving the building to saving its interior artwork. .

For Lovegreen, who grew up in the Anchorage area, theater was part of her life: her first date with her husband was there. People are passionate about theatre, she says. It was part of their life to grow up.

“People get very emotional about it, and I think that leads to a lot of people looking like hotheads trying to attack the business, when in fact they’re more focused on the building itself and that’s how it goes,” Lovegreen mentioned. “So I think because of that there’s been a lot of hurt feelings over the years.”

Trish Neal, president of the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, said she would rather see the building restored and remodeled than demolished. She said many people remember past movies, dates or birthdays at the theater.

“Once a building is gone, it’s gone,” Neal said. “It’s lost to history and that’s a real shame, because the theater has a lot of history attached to it.”

The building has been listed by the Preservation Association as the most endangered historic building in Alaska today, a list the group compiles to raise awareness of certain historic properties.

In the emailed statement, the Changs said they had owned Anchorage property since the 1980s and lived in the city, with children attending school here.

“Our downtown development is about believing in our economy and our community and being prepared to lead the way in investment and revitalization,” they wrote. “This will be a project the community can be proud of while giving our economy the boost it needs and a taste of a vibrant lifestyle downtown can offer after hours. Office.”

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