While liberal Anchorage Assembly members are pressuring the Mayor’s Office to use the Golden Lion hotel property to house homeless people, the mayor says that the Alaska Department of Transportation is going to take the property via emminent domain, in all likelihood, to improve traffic patterns at 36th Avenue and New Seward Highway.
Former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz purchased the Golden Lion for $9 million in 2020, but it sat empty throughout the term of interim Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, and has remained unused since Mayor Dave Bronson took office.
Using that location for homeless or inebriates and drug addicts has been unpopular with midtown Anchorage residents, who cite many safety concerns, such as the likelihood that the nearby Helen McDowell Sanctuary will become a homeless hideout and encampment. The Anchorage Jewish community has said in the past that the proximity to its preschool is also a safety concern.
Mayor Bronson submitted a letter to the Assembly that was sent to him by Alaska DOT, saying that there is a “high likelihood” that DOT will need that property. He said the project and the property was scored by DOT staff in 2018 and was the highest scoring project on Alaska’s National Highway System due to safety concerns.
“The [COT] letter states that this is one of the busiest and highest crash rate intersections in the Municipality of Anchorage, bicyclists and pedestrians report that it is difficult to cross the highway, and users report a general lack of east-west connectivity in the area. The Anchorage Assembly has brought up these same issues in other parts of town in dealing with bicyclists and pedestrians with traffic. The letter from DOT&PF states that planned improvements include grade separations, highway ramps, non-motorized facilities, and new frontage roads connecting Tudor Road to 36th Avenue,” according to the Mayor’s Office.
“The DOT&PF letter goes on to state that all project alternatives being evaluated show an impact to the Golden Lion Hotel property, which means there is a “high likelihood” that the result will be a total take of the property. DOT&PF also stated that they have communicated to the Municipality of Anchorage’s previous administration (Acting Mayor Quinn-Davidson), that the parking area adjacent to the highway was permitted to the previous owner of the Golden Lion and that permit was non-transferrable and was in fact terminated when the property was acquired by the Municipality of Anchorage. DOT&PF says it will not be issuing any future permits for those parking spaces as that property will be required for the Seward Highway & 36th Avenue project,” the mayor said.
Members of the Assembly appear unmoved and said that if the State takes the property, that would be years away, and meanwhile they want it used for the purpose for which it was purchased by Berkowitz, who left office in a scandal shortly after purchasing the hotel.
DOT in 2020 sent interim Mayor Quinn-Davidson a similar letter to the one sent to Mayor Bronson in 2022, stating that the property’s parking lot would likely become part of the reconstruction of the intersection. Without the parking lot, the building would not be usable for any commercial purpose. The DOT said, in its letter to Quinn-Davidson, that it was discontinuing the building’s permit for encroachment on the DOT right of way.
But Bronson said it makes no sense to invest more into the building that will probably be torn down in a few years: “After consultation from the Department of Law based off of this new information from the DOT&PF to eventually take the Golden Lion Hotel property, it does not make sense to set up a treatment facility in a location that will be taken away. As part of due diligence, my administration is supporting the opening of treatment centers with Providence and Salvation Army in the near future and evaluating other locations and possible options to address substance misuse treatment and current community needs.”
The Berkowitz Administration signed a legal agreement during the sale of Municipal Light & Power to Chugach Electric Association that says Anchorage will need to spent $15 million on a treatment center by the year 2025. If the city doesn’t fulfill that promise, the Muni will need to pay Providence Hospital $15 million. The agreement happened because Providence intervened in the sale and made that demand, which the Regulatory Commission of Alaska approved.