Columns 2017

Make downtown Anchorage more accessible

In my rapidly approaching old age, I find myself becoming one of the ladies who lunch. Partly this is because I can no longer drive in the dark so my social life in winter is limited to lunches. Also, by 5 PM I’m ready for my nightie and a good book. Unlike in my youth, starting anything after 7 PM seems more like a punishment than a treat.

So I have a stalwart friend who lunches with me on a regular basis. We follow Mara Severin’s restaurant reviews religiously. There are restaurants in town that occupy a space we have visited multiple times in the past as one restaurant takes over from another.

There are few rules for our luncheons. But one that is firm and fast is that we don’t go downtown for lunch except in the fall after the tourists and before the snow or the spring, after the snow and before the tourists. This is directly related to the parking situation you are confronted with if you venture to a downtown eatery.

Once snow has fallen, finding a spot on the street near a meter is often impossible due to the piles of snow that seem to occupy those spaces. If you don’t get a meter, you are forced to go into one of the lots. Last week, I met some friends at the 49th State Brewing Company. I paid almost as much for my two hours in that lot as I did for my lunch. As much as I like that restaurant, it’s hard to justify ten dollars for two hours parking in order to eat a cheeseburger, no matter how good that cheeseburger may be. So for the most part, lunch means anywhere but downtown.

And the problem for downtown is only going to get worse as south Anchorage continues to develop. Restaurants are springing up all over the area. It’s becoming less and less necessary to go downtown for anything other than Cyrano’s. Even the PAC gets priced out of many retirees’ range if they have to add in another twenty or so dollars to park in a lot long enough to eat and see a show.

As for shopping, seems like you don’t really have to go further north that Fireweed to get all your needs met. And all those eateries and stores have parking lots where the parking is free. While snow plowing sometimes leaves the lots a little smaller in winter than summer, most of the winter there are plenty of free spaces available.

Downtowns across America have fallen victim to suburban sprawl. Right now, it’s hard for me to see how Anchorage won’t follow that trend. While downtown contains some of the best restaurants in the city, getting to them and paying for parking can add a hefty amount to your total costs. For people like me who are on a fixed income, that extra cost can mean the difference between eating downtown or not. So it seems that getting a handle on the parking situation becomes critical to the survival of a vibrant downtown.

And by a vibrant downtown, I don’t mean just the summer when the place swarms with visitors. I mean year round, even after the visitors are gone. I can’t believe downtown businesses can survive on three months worth of foot traffic a year. Yet between the way the sidewalks are (aren’t) cleared, the way snow piles up in the few parking spaces available, or the way it’s pushed up onto the sidewalk making it impossible to walk safely, it’s a wonder that downtown businesses see anyone from one June to the next.

So if downtown businesses are really invested in revitalizing a seemingly dying area, they need to make it friendlier to those of us who call Anchorage home year round. When we think of a place we might want to lunch, the decision should not be based on the lack of parking spaces or the exorbitant cost of parking in a lot. The decision should not be predicated on whether or not it’s possible to walk from where the car is parked to the restaurant without breaking a leg on snow and ice.

Downtown needs to get a lot friendlier than it currently seems during the off season, especially to retirees who have some disposable income for those lunches. Make it an easier experience and I promise we will come more often.