Years ago, when I was just starting to be interested in what it takes to make magnetic places – the kind that people are drawn to, want to exist in, that inform our experiences an act as a supporting character in our lives – my dad drove me through Ship Creek, and then up to Government Hill so we could see the whole area sprawled out in front of us. I loved how from up there, you could follow the path of the creek with your eyes and see where it meets Cook Inlet, the mountains framing the view on the left and the right, the colors of the port and the railroad lending an air of industrial-chic.
That was when I fell in love with the potential of Ship Creek.
I envisioned of a boardwalk, artist spaces, loft-like living, coffee shops, bike trails, and breweries.
Later, I discovered that I was not alone in dreaming up ideas for the area. In fact many people, including people with power, influence, and access to the funds to make their visions happen, also loved the potential.
From Mayor Sullivan, another longtime Ship Creek dreamer:
“Given the beautiful natural setting of Ship Creek, the inlet and mountains, access to world-class trail systems, the Alaska Railroad, a thriving downtown district, we have the opportunity to create something that is truly unique and will help establish Anchorage as a great International city.”
I’ve also heard Mayor Sullivan note that we are a city on the water, without a waterfront. A simple observation, but important – when you visit other cities on the water, the waterfront is a prime place to be, for people and for business.
After hearing rumblings of ideas for the area and rumors that something might happen for a few years, we’ve taken our first real step forward: The Municipality of Anchorage received funding to perform a master plan for the area, and tasked the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation with hiring a consultant.
Big planning projects can be a bit scary to people with dreams of their own, and I was feeling a bit wary. I’d recently attended a presentation for a project near Ship Creek that I was prepared to fall head over heels in love with, and discovered that, although well intended, the project seemed wrong wrong wrong for how I (and I think many others) hope Anchorage will evolve.
However, the Ship Creek Master Plan project team, led by KlingStubbins* (with sub-consultants USKH, Jacobs, and BGI), implemented a public involvement process to ensure that interested community members would have a chance to share their ideas.
The team kicked off the planning effort with three community events:
Quick Talks – Hear Stakeholders Sound off!
Come hear ten groups rapidly present their vision, idea or concern about the future of Ship Creek.
Big Ideas Night – The ideas are free, the drinks are on you!
A fun evening developing creative ideas and bold images in support of the new Ship Creek. Engaging the creative community in new ways of looking at the waterfront.
Open Planning – Your chance to tell the planners what you think!
Members of the community gather to share their ideas and values to inform the vision for Ship Creek.
The project team combined the information and inspiration gathered at the meetings with their own experience and knowledge to come up with three concepts:
Anchorage’s New Neighborhood focuses on establishing a new mixed-used residential development that will extend the downtown grid into the Ship Creek area. The center of this new development will be a school and Winter Garden/Market Hall.
A New Place to Live Work & Play focuses on the economic and recreational revitalization of the Ship Creek Area.
“Gateway to Alaska”
Anchorage’s New Waterfront transforms the Ship Creek area by creating an accessible waterfront, which Anchorage is lacking. The new waterfront will be anchored by an improved Transit Center that will feed downtown with a constant flow of pedestrian traffic.
You can check out all three concepts for yourself here: Ship Creek Master Plan Concepts.
I liked and disliked parts of each idea. The waterfront sports complex seemed like an especially bad fit. Other ideas, like a carousal, children’s museum, floating stage, and zip line, seemed fun but a bit gimmicky. Making sure the infrastructure was sound and would support new development was a decidedly un-glamorous yet obviously important must-do first step. I especially loved the mixed-use housing ideas, connecting the coastal trail to the Ship Creek trail, indoor market, and tidal sculpture art. When I finished reviewing the options, I was cautiously optimistic about the potential of the planning effort.
Finally, it was time for the team to unveil the master plan. I headed over to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, anxious and excited to see the final product.
They nailed it (in my world, at least).
These are the guiding design concepts, which I LOVE:
- Strengthen existing access advantages to create a New Gateway to Alaska.
- Leverage and expand recreational opportunities to capture the Alaskan outdoor lifestyle in the city.
- Enhance the relationship to the water. Create a new Waterfront. Improve access to the Creek.
- Expand and connect to Downtown. Pull downtown off the rise and into the Ship Creek Valley and out to the water’s edge.
- Establish a new neighborhood. Offer residents an exciting urban lifestyle choice.
- Create new energy, expand the economy, make it more resilient and support new business innovation.
Implementing the master plan will be a huge project, and will take many years and a lot of money to make it happen. But I think the planning document presents a realistic vision well-suited to Anchorage and would add a thriving new dimension and style of living to our city.
I’m sure in 20 years, some parts of the plan will have been executed, others will have evolved past the original concept, and still others will have fallen by the wayside. Regardless, the opportunity to consider a comprehensive future for Ship Creek is invaluable. Hopefully it will be attractive to private and public investors.
Check out the final concept and presentation here: Ship Creek Redevelopment Concept Presentation.
The project team recommends focusing on the heart of the site with available land for phase one. Components could include Ship Creek square, a pedestrian bridge with climbing wall, apartments, a market hall, freshwater marsh, boardwalk, Cook Inlet viewing platform, and boat dock.
Another fascinating piece of the project is bringing back the Knik Arm Power Plant, which could provide buildings in the area with lower operating costs while reusing existing infrastructure. Although I dreamed of something else for this facility (more on this in a future post) it seems like a smart way to build the infrastructure and attract business to the area.
Check out the document for details on phase two and phase three.
The next step in the process is the public adoption process, slated for September and October. There are plenty of articles and reports written about the project if you want another perspective – just Google Municipality of Anchorage Ship Creek Master Plan.
What do you think about the Ship Creek master plan?
*The rendering at the beginning of this post is by KlingStubbins.