Bronson administration turns down plan to buy former Midtown Anchorage fitness center for homeless shelter

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Jul. 10—Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson will not buy the former Alaska Club fitness center on Tudor Road in Midtown for a 125-person homeless shelter.

"The administration does not intend to move forward with the purchase of the Alaska Club," Matt Shuckerow, interim spokesman for the mayor, said Friday.

The mayor had until Friday to follow through with the deal, set up by former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. It was a key part of her plan to create more homeless shelter beds before winter as the city stands down its mass shelter at Sullivan Arena, set up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bronson's appointed chief of staff, Craig Campbell, had indicated on Tuesday that the new administration would likely not follow through with the deal.

Instead, Bronson will push for the Assembly to approve a $15 million appropriation to build a large-scale homeless shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage that would house about 450 people but could be expanded to shelter up to 1,000.

Many Assembly members had approved of Quinn-Davidson's plan and have pushed to create more, smaller shelter sites spread around Anchorage, along with other housing options for people in need.

"It's definitely extremely frustrating and disappointing to see this potential opportunity go to waste," said Assembly member Felix Rivera.

Some on the Assembly have balked at the size and cost of Bronson's proposed shelter and a lack of details about exactly how much it will cost to run, where the money would come from and what services would be provided on site.

Several Assembly members have also said they worry that by not purchasing the Midtown building, the Bronson administration could be tying the city's hands when it needs housing and shelter options quickly. The city has a goal of standing down the Sullivan mass shelter by the end of September.

The Anchorage Assembly in March passed a unanimous resolution requesting that Quinn-Davidson's administration come up with a transition plan for the Sullivan shelter site.

In May, Quinn-Davidson announced that the city had entered into a $5.436 million purchase contract for the former Alaska Club building, but the acting mayor left it up to newly elected Bronson, who took office July 1, to follow through with the plan.

Quinn-Davidson planned to turn the building into a 125-bed congregate emergency shelter and resource hub for people experiencing homelessness.

Assembly chair Suzanne LaFrance said that it's "unfortunate" the administration took the option off of the table as the city searches for housing and shelter for the individuals using the Sullivan mass shelter.

"This was a well-researched option for addressing homelessness," LaFrance said. "And we still have yet to receive a detailed plan from the administration on the proposed navigation shelter concept that they want to move forward with."

Still, the Alaska Club's leadership has indicated they are open to continuing to negotiate with the city, Rivera said.

"Really, it's in the Bronson administration's court, and we will see what they do," he said.

Assembly member Meg Zaletel, who chairs the committee on housing and homelessness, said the building could have been used for a shelter through the winter and then turned into something else, like permanent supportive housing or a crisis stabilization center.

The Midtown location is "ideal" for any of those services, and they are needed in the area, she said.

The municipality had been working with local philanthropies to invest in "a continuum of services to address the city's needs," and the Alaska Club building was part of that plan, she said.

The city invested $390,000 in nonrefundable earnest money on the contract to purchase the Alaska Club building, and it will lose that money once the contract is terminated.

For his proposed shelter and navigation center near Tudor and Elmore roads, Bronson has requested the Assembly move $15 million from other city projects and departments for the purchase and construction of a temporary facility manufactured by Sprung Structures.

Dr. John Morris, Bronson's appointed homeless coordinator, at a homeless committee meeting on Tuesday told Assembly members that a single large shelter is necessary.

"When your goal is everyone, you just aren't going to get there with a number of 100-person shelters spread throughout town," he said.

It makes the most sense to create an intentionally designed facility "at a location that is thoughtfully chosen, rather than simply picked because it happens to be a building that's for sale," he said.

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