Journal of Housing & Community Development

Award of Excellence: 3600 Spenard

March 28, 2019

The Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) wins a 2018 Award of Excellence in Affordable Housing for the 3600 Spenard development. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development. 

CIHA found a unique way to fulfill their mission statement to “[c]reate housing opportunities that empower our people and build our community” when they acquired the former site of Papa Joe’s, a notorious gentleman’s club, at a federal auction. Though the club had thrived during the Alaska pipeline construction and oil boom in the 1970s, eventually the property began to deteriorate and became a hub for criminal activity. CIHA’s acquisition of the site was the first step towards building 3600 Spenard, a 33-unit mixed-use building, to increase the availability of affordable housing “in a creative way that responds to community needs” and to bring “vibrancy and purpose” to the infamous and dilapidated site. 

It was important for CIHA to create a design for the building that would maximize the number of units, allow for code compliance for street traffic, and meet code appropriate setbacks and greenspace requirements, all of which were complicated by the unusual shape of the property and its proximity to a steeply curved road nicknamed “dead man’s curve.” CIHA struggled to develop a design that had to have enough units to support the development’s financing structure. Eventually, the team came up with a “bent” building design that fit along the road, conformed with code, and was dense enough to support the project’s financing structure. 

3600 Spenard is a three-story building with retail space on the first floor and one-bedroom units on the upper floors. The building’s interior features shorter halls with fewer apartment doors to give people a home with “less of an institutional multifamily feel” and a sense of privacy. The units are designed to maximize space, with elevated ceilings, a walkthrough bathroom that connects to the bedroom, and a small balcony. Some of the units have ¾ walls between the bedroom and living room to “help residents live larger than their 584 square feet.” 

The building was also designed to have a lower impact on the environment. The site design incorporated an onsite infiltration system and only utilizes the public storm drain system during an on-site system overflow. Twenty-two geothermal wells, drilled under the parking lot, provide heating and cooling through a closed, vertical loop field and heat pump exchange system, and 70 rooftop solar photovoltaic panels help reduce electrical costs for common areas and outdoor lighting. The building has a six-star energy efficiency rating, and the savings in operational expenses help keep 3600 Spenard affordable for residents. 

Holly Nordlum, a local Alaska Native artist, designed a storyboard at the site which tells the story of the Salmon Boy, a Dena’ina (Alaska Natives of the Cook Inlet region) story where a young boy turns into a salmon because he did not respect the salmon that he ate. Another local artist, Chad Taylor, designed fish wei-inspired benches to accompany the storyboard. The Alaska Native story and art helped CIHA honor the site’s history and the Dena’ina people in their community.  

CIHA triumphed over several obstacles by finding creative and innovative solutions that didn’t break their budget and met all code regulations. 3600 Spenard was a successful development that was embraced not only by future residents, but the surrounding community as well. 

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