ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Many store and restaurant owners in Anchorage are trying to start businesses while still following local mandates. Several in downtown Anchorage have spilled into municipal streets, and in turn sparked speculation about Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s involvement in their expansions, something the mayor strongly denies.
“Much of the criticism took the fact that I was an investor in these companies and drew some unfair conclusions,” Berkowitz said Friday. “I have done a lot to not let my official information in any way influence my personal investment decisions and vice versa.”
Of course, the city center looks a little different than it did before the coronavirus pandemic: Several neighborhoods are closed in whole or in part when restaurants and business owners expand their operations to municipal streets. But while the mayor has financial interests in a handful of businesses around the city, they are not located on any of the closed streets. He also said on Thursday that he had no hand in choosing who companies could or could not be built, and that he did not bring the idea of enlargements to the center in the first place.
“Every business in town had the ability to make decisions,” he said. “I realize this has received a lot of attention, but if you look closely, many of the allegations are untrue.”
A recent blog post linked Berkowitz to several entities, including Crush Bistro, one of the downtown restaurants that expanded onto G Street in front of the brick-and-mortar restaurant. Berkowitz has no stake or ownership in Crush, according to government records filed with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. However, Berkowitz shares business interests with two of the owners of Crush Restaurant, which manages partners in three limited companies that oversee restaurants in which Berkowitz has shares. These companies operate Spenard Roadhouse, South Restaurant + Coffeehouse and Snow City Cafe.
As for his investments in local restaurants, data filed with the Alaska Public Office Office Commission shows that in 2019 Berkowitz personally received between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000 for his membership in Snow City Cafe and Spenard Roadhouse, two popular eateries in Anchorage. For a personal stake in South Restaurant and Coffeehouse, he received between $ 2,000 and $ 5,000, according to state applications.
None of these restaurants have been expanded to municipal streets, although they have all expanded their outdoor dining services, something that is allowed when the municipality and local entrepreneurs navigate how they can function safely during the pandemic.
Anchorage Downtown Partnership introduced the proposal to move companies to the streets in the city center, according to the group’s CEO, Amanda Moser. The idea was then proposed to companies around the city center and grew from there, she said.
“We want to stand with companies and find ways for them to be viable,” Moser said. “We put that out there, and people came back to us and offered the opportunity. And we cooperated with that and made the road closed. “
Moser said she had seen cities with walks in the lower 48 and thought it could work in Anchorage. The idea emerged in May at a meeting of the Economic Resilience Task Force, a group convened by Berkowitz early in his administration. The group then went to companies to find out who would support the move and who would not, and began working with the municipality on road closures and required permits.
“It was an idea that we thought was a good idea, so we promoted it,” Berkowitz said of his involvement in the project, “and demanded that the state log out of the distribution of alcohol on the streets. So this is something we thought would encourage more companies to use. “
In June, the Berkowitz Municipality of Anchorage signed the Emergency Order 12, which allows for temporary license adjustments so that approved companies such as restaurants, breweries, distilleries and wineries can “facilitate the physical removal of outdoor chairs” during the pandemic. It also adapts local guidelines to better match laws commissioned by the state, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which decided at a meeting early this summer that a temporary expansion of licensed premises would be beneficial during the pandemic.
“We know, when dealing with the pandemic, that the outside is better than the inside,” Berkowitz added, “and we want to make sure companies have as many options as possible.”
Several streets are currently used as either community areas or areas for eating in the center. G St. between 4th and 5th Aves. is currently closed and includes seating for the Crush Bistro and a venue for games and activities located outside Sevigny Studio; F St. between Williwaw and Flattop Pizza is also closed and currently has shared seating for use by the two restaurants as well as a couple of others in the area.
“It’s about your neighborhood, right? It’s about society, “said Katie Sevigny, artist and owner of her name studio in the center. “It’s very much about partnership in the center, about revitalization of the center.
“We were just like, ‘We’ll do this, we’ll get something to happen,’ ‘she added,’ and I feel like we’ve made a really good community space here. “
G St. between 4th and 5th Aves. was also examined as an alternative. Not all real estate and business owners were on board with the plan, Moser said, referring to issues such as limited parking, traffic and other potential problems, so Anchorage Downtown Partnership did not move forward with developments there.
Still, more than 30 companies across Anchorage have relocated to outdoor dining, Berkowitz said. Moser said that about 50 or 60 units across the state have applied for outdoor alcohol permits through the state government so far.
Among the closest companies that will open with street seating are Wild Scoops, a locally owned and operated ice cream shop, and Fat Ptarmigan, a popular pizza place that added a cider house in February, both of which are located in the central district of E St.
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