Anchorage to close shelter at Sullivan Arena with plans to buy former Alaska Club

A floor of an arena with cots on the ground
The Sullivan Arena Emergency Mass Shelter on March 8, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Hundreds of people will move out of Anchorage’s mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena in the coming months under a plan released Friday by Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson.

The plan would get people currently living at the Sullivan shelter into other housing, with a portion of them moving into a new, smaller shelter that would be operated by the city. 

The city is again hoping that new 125-bed shelter will be located at the former Alaska Club building on Tudor Road. Quinn-Davidson announced Friday that the city has entered into a contract to buy the building for about $5.4 million.

But there’s a big uncertainty in that plan: The city won’t close on the agreement until July 9, when a new mayor will be in charge.

So far, conservative candidate Dave Bronson is on track to become Anchorage’s next mayor, and he opposed buying the former gym during his campaign.

Quinn-Davidson spoke with Bronson Friday about the planned purchase. In a prepared statement, Bronson thanked the mayor for the call.

“He will consider this action as he develops his long term strategy to resolve the chronic homeless problem facing Anchorage,” said the statement sent from Bronson’s transition operations manager Brice Wilbanks.

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The city says it’s shooting to move people out of the Sullivan Arena before Sept. 30, when FEMA funding expires and the fall hockey season begins.

 Quinn-Davidson said continuing to pay for the Sullivan out of the city’s budget would be “unsustainable.”

The city has already put down a “small amount of earnest money” as part of a contract it entered into with the current Alaska Club owners. That money would be lost if Bronson withdraws from the plan. 

Robin Ward, who directs the city’s real estate department, said she could not say how much money would be lost, but called it a “small amount of the purchase price.”

“All real estate transactions are confidential until they’re closed or terminated,” she said.

Quinn-Davidson said her administration decided the Alaska Club building was the best option for a new shelter, and she hoped the new deal would encourage Bronson to reconsider some of his earlier statements, condemning the city’s property purchases.

“I think we’re giving him the best of both worlds: He gets to make that decision but we’ve laid out a plan that works for him,” said Quinn-Davidson.

Quinn-Davidson’s plan to rehouse the 400 people at the Sullivan, plus another 300 people scattered in non-congregate rooms around town, involves several pieces:

  • 90 people would move into existing private shelters with additional space as COVID-19 precautions ease.
  • 150 would move to various non-congregate housing options around Anchorage coordinated by case managers. Funding for these rooms was recently approved by the Anchorage Assembly using American Rescue Plan Act money.
  • 50 people who are medically fragile would move into respite care.
  • 125 people would move into the new, city-run shelter at the former Alaska Club building.

The city explored buying the former gym building last year. 

It was a controversial idea, and the city initially scrapped it, saying the building was too expensive and needed too many repairs.  

But then, more recently, officials said the current owners reduced the price and agreed to begin with the needed repairs themselves as part of a philanthropic contribution to solving homelessness, according to Jason Bockenstedt, chief of staff at the city. The city estimates that contribution will save $1.4 million, bringing the final cost of the purchase to about $5.5 million. 

In a statement, Quinn-Davidson said that after a year of searching, “it is clear that this property is not only the best location, but a smart investment.”

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