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Downtown Development Ideas
Anchorage Looks to Midwest Cities

Wichita reports 263 new residential units downtown in the last year, and 550 more under construction.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, city officials and representatives from local businesses traveled to Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma City in early August to see first hand how these cities are handling housing and downtown development.

The trip was paid in part by the Rasmuson Foundation Established in 1955, the foundation awards about $30 million annually to help improve the quality of life in Alaska. The foundation has given about $24.6 million in major capital grants to Alaskan housing projects since 2001.

Anchorage (pop. 300,950) and Wichita (pop. 386,552) have similar populations. Wichita's urban area covers 163 sq. miles, while Anchorage's urban area is confined to only 78 sq. miles. Anchorage's metro area, however, covers a huge swath: 26,312 sq. miles. Oklahoma City has a significantly larger city area (621 sq. miles) and population (620,602; metro population of 1,319,677).

Anchorage city officials are interested in Wichita's downtown housing and redevelopment success, and were impressed with what they say is lacking in Anchorage: coordination between public officials, development authorities, builders and nonprofits in Wichita and Oklahoma City. Wichita reports 263 new residential units downtown in the last year, and 550 more under construction.

The trip is indicative of Anchorage's plan to build more housing, particularly downtown. One of the Anchorage team, however, told the Alaska Dispatch News the Anchorage municipality is more of an enforcement division that a developmental one.

In Wichita the group took tours of the innovative Wichita State University campus, and had briefings on downtown master plans and development. Wichita and Oklahoma officials told the Anchorage group their building initiatives are aimed at not only making their communities better, but stemming the tide of young people moving to other metro areas. Anchorage city officials noted that "living in isolation is not necessarily the best way to promote innovation," and that similar trips should occur on a more regular basis.

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September 18, 2019, 4:13 pm PDT

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