A developer is planning another major one-block new construction project in downtown Anchorage. It includes the demolition of the 4th Avenue Theater.

A developer plans a major block renovation project in downtown Anchorage with a vision for residential and retail space, a hotel and more.

Plans for the project, estimated to cost more than $200 million, also include the demolition of the historic 4th Avenue Theater, which was built in the 1940s and some community members have long argued passionately for preservation.

“We plan to rebuild (the) facade and flysheet 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 has nearly all the buildings along the block, said in an email.

The theater’s iconic signboard has long hung over the central street downtown, and proponents have pushed to preserve both the exterior and the various Alaskan-themed artworks in the Art Deco theater interior.

The Changs recently presented their plans to community groups.

The Changs repeatedly declined to be interviewed about the plans. In an email response to inquiries from the Daily News, they said the project is seen as a mixed-use development, including hotel, office, retail, housing, parking and entertainment space. They call it “the largest private investment in downtown since (the) 1980s.”

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

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

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

“The only economically viable approach”

While previous demolition permits have raised concerns among community members who feared the theatre’s loss, none have materialized so far and the theater still stands downtown, albeit empty and boarded up.

Peach had previously proposed another project with similar amenities, but after it became embroiled in tax breaks with the city, the project stalled. A spokesman for Mayor Dave Bronson declined to comment on current plans.

Now buildings listed in a city permit for demolition include the address of the theater, plus multiple buildings east and west of the theater, including 608, 646, and 650 West 4th Ave., and 413 and 423 G Street around the corner to the west.

Most of the block has been designated a degraded area, making it eligible for potential tax breaks.

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

The Changs said they had determined that demolishing the buildings was “the only economically viable approach.”

The Changs said the project’s next steps are yet to be determined — they are currently targeting a multimillion-dollar renovation of the nearby former Key Bank building, on 5th Avenue. They also said they are “still in (a) year-long lawsuit with (the) Municipality of Anchorage.”

Some buildings on the 4th Avenue block between G Street and F Street do not meet the basic rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the Chang brothers. They said they found lead, asbestos, faulty boiler and electrical systems, and earthquakes.

The demolition of the buildings on the 4th Avenue side will take place at the same time as an upcoming phase of the city’s ongoing street improvement project along 4th Avenue, which begins in June, the Changs wrote.

Notes taken during a presentation in late March about the project to an Anchorage economic development group, detailed plans for a hotel to be built above the fourth floor of a parking garage.

“There is hope” that the project could also one day be airlifted to the nearby Egan Center, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts and the Anchorage Police Department buildings, the meeting minutes said.

A developer’s representative declined to comment on the status of the project’s funding.

“Once a building is gone, it is gone”

Prior plans to demolish the theater drew opposition from some, citing the building’s iconic architecture and interior art. As the latest plans have seeped out in recent days, it has once again made the call to keep it.

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

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

“By this time, the style was somewhat outdated, but fantastic nonetheless,” Hoagland wrote.

Over the past decade, the Changs say they’ve hired experts and historical consultants to assess the theater. This year they embarked on what they describe as an “intense” process of preserving and protecting the theater’s art, murals and relief pieces.

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

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

Heather Flynn, who represented the center at Anchorage Assembly in the 1980s and early 1990s, said a plan to preserve the interior artwork and murals in the theater building would be a good faith act on the part of the developers. , considering how much loved the theater is. She also said she understands why from a developmental standpoint they wouldn’t be able to preserve the theater in its entirety.

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

Lawyers over the years have pushed for the building’s preservation and have expressed serious concerns about its demolition, noting that it is both important to the state’s history and culture.

“It holds a special place in my heart,” said Cheryl Lovegreen, vice president of the Friends of the 4th Avenue Theater, a group with a mission to help others learn more about theater and work toward preserving it. although they have not met before. a group since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

While she initially hoped the theater building could be saved, Lovegreen said she now believes it will collapse and has since shifted her concerns from saving the building to saving the interior art.

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

“People are getting very emotional about this topic, and I think that leads to a lot of people sounding like hotheads trying to attack the company when they’re actually more focused on the building itself and that’s how it comes out,” Lovegreen said. “So I think that’s why there’s been a lot of hurt feelings over the years.”

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

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

The building was currently rated by the Conservation Association as the Most Endangered Historic Building in Alaska, a list the group is compiling to highlight certain historic properties.

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

“Our downtown development is about believing in our economy and community and being willing to lead the way in investment and revitalization,” they wrote. “This will be a project for the community to be proud of, while giving our economy the boost it needs and a taste of the vibrant lifestyle the center can provide outside of normal business hours.”

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