Facade program aims to boost local business

A grant-based neighborhood beautification program is slowly transforming the face of Mountain View Drive.

The façade project spearheaded by the Anchorage Community Land Trust has so far partnered with six local businesses and organizations to complete building improvements ranging from new signs and storefronts to lighting upgrades and murals. Kirk Rose, the trust’s community development manager, said the program followed a vivid strategy for neighborhood revitalization.

“We focused on colorful, bright and long-lasting,” Rose wrote in an email. “It was great to see that replicated throughout the neighborhood.”

Since its inception in 2012, the project has included building upgrades at Alaska Butcher Equipment and Supply, E & S Diversified Service and Mayfield’s Quality Cleaners. Rose said ACLT covers about 25 percent of improvement costs for program participants, the businesses themselves cover the remainder and the whole project has seen a promising return on investment.

“I haven’t heard anything but positive feedback,” said Katch Bacheller, executive director of the Alaska Museum of Science and History.

The museum’s exterior — once painted a drab yellow — now features a towering, detailed mural. An underwater scene unfolds over the front entrance. A dinosaur looms alongside the museum’s sign, and the colorful panorama wraps around the entire building.

Other program participants invested in new signs or bright parking lot lighting, and Rose said other neighboring businesses completed their own upgrades in a commercial kind of “keeping up with the Joneses.”

“I think investment inspires more investment and we think this project proved that,” Rose wrote in an email. “Reinvestment is a central strategy for Mountain View revitalization efforts. But pretty buildings are just pretty buildings.”

Rose said the land trust is now working to learn more about the economic and social effects of the project; whether business is increasing and public safety is improving along Mountain View Drive.

At the museum, the investment seems to be working.

Annual admission is approaching 20,000 visitors, Bacheller said, and the number increases by about 30 percent every year. The mural was completed late last year, but she said the draw is already apparent. The former boat warehouse is now a neighborhood photo op.

“That’s the feedback – how many times does it show up on Facebook, on Instagram?” the museum’s director said.

Before the design ever took shape, though, Bacheller said ACLT helped work with an architect to explore options for upgrading the museum façade. There were few: The architect said the aging exterior walls of the building could support nothing more than the weight of fresh paint, Bacheller said.

The land trust paid to repaint the entire building, she said, and the museum used a state capital grant of its own to pay for the mural. By painting both layers in succession and using $75-per-gallon Sherwin Williams paint, she said the new façade is both durable and colorful.

And while the mural has helped boost admission, Bacheller said it also did something else.

“It totally changed the face of the museum and the neighborhood,” she wrote in an email.

That’s the plan, according to ACLT. Rose said the trust originally dedicated $100,000 in state grant money towards the program, and has so far spent about $40,000. This spring, he said it’s set to begin improvement projects at the Davis Park ball fields and possibly another building near the corner of Mountain View and Commercial Drive. The program will accept business applications until the funding runs out, Rose said.

As the land trust works to measure the economic and public safety impacts of the improvement program, Bacheller said she appreciates another effect.

“Every project that they’ve ever done has had a huge impact on this community,” she said. “You can throw a million cops out there, but making it pretty — that’s the thing.”

 

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