ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Imagine you are a tourist planning to visit Anchorage. You Google downtown hotels. You book a nice-looking room.
And when you arrive, you see this.
Tonight at 6 on Channel 2. Alaska awarded 165 liquor licenses to hotels that claim to attract tourists. 1 in 5 don't meet legal requirements pic.twitter.com/xPL9gNI7Ep— Kyle Hopkins (@kylehopkinsAK) November 10, 2017
Stained walls. Cockroaches. Just outside your window, a man can be seen tying a band around his arm, producing a needle and shooting drugs.
That was our experience on a recent weekday evening at the Black Angus Inn, one of 165 hotels that the state has awarded with a little-known government benefit: A liquor license that is supposedly reserved for businesses that fuel the struggling Alaska economy by attracting out-of-state tourists.
Under Alaska law, there is a limit on the number of bars and liquor stores that can open in Anchorage. The city is already tapped out when it comes to available bar licenses, but the option of a tourism-related license gives hotel owners a way around the cap. The licenses are also inexpensive compared to a standard liquor license, which in Anchorage can cost $250,000 or more.
Last year state researchers began to take a closer look at those licenses and found a problem. One in five hotels with a tourism liquor license does not have the required number of rooms for rent under state law.
In other cases, competitors complain that separate hotel and bar operators are manipulating the licensing system by pretending to be a single, combined business.
With an update on the issue planned for Monday's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board meeting in Anchorage, KTUU recently visited the Black Angus Inn to get a closer look at one local hotel with a long-standing tourism license.
The Fairview property keeps police and firefighters busy on the public’s dime, with more than 400 police calls to the Black Angus so far this year, an APD spokesman said.
The Anchorage Fire Department says Black Angus accounts for 28 percent of Fire Station No. 1’s calls for service to downtown hotels over the past three years. That includes a whopping 24 false fire alarms, said Battalion Chief James Dennis.
When we checked into the hotel on a recent afternoon, the desk clerk warned that the alarm might go off because it was in the process of being repaired.
“It seems like a trap for people,” said Assemblyman Christopher Constant, who represents the surrounding neighborhood and pointed out cockroaches crawling the walls when he visited the room we had rented. “If this is where we are offering people subsidies to go, or if this is what people can find that they can afford, then we are failing as a city and a state, because this is immoral.”
When the hotel’s liquor license came up for renewal earlier this year, city officials made no protest despite filing routine protests against several other businesses due to unpaid taxes.
In fact, the municipality directly paid the Black Angus nearly $17,000 in recent years to house tuberculosis patients, according to the city purchasing officer. (That two-year contract, awarded in 2014, has since ended.)
The hotel’s bar and restaurant are currently closed, but state officials say the business’s tourism license remains on the books waiting to be reactivated at any time. The hotel is now for sale with the liquor license highlighted as a prime selling point in real estate listings.
Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell said the regulatory board asked for a review of tourism licenses like the one held by the Black Angus in July 2016. Researchers found that 34 license recipients had fewer rooms than required under populations spelled out in state law.
It was unclear if at least some of those hotels met requirements at the time they received licenses, McConnell said. An update on the subject is scheduled for Monday’s regulatory board meeting but the state says additional research is needed.
The Black Angus has 64 rooms, more than enough to meet population requirements for a tourist-related liquor license. But the high volume of police calls and the hotel's poor ratings among visitors raise questions about the state's ability to ensure businesses with such licenses are serving tourists as intended.
A manager for the business told the city and state that the hotel planned to provide “tours or rental equipment” in the near future. It’s unknown of those steps were taken. In a phone conversation, a Black Angus manager referred questions to co-owner Gino Yoo. Yoo is also listed on state records as part owner limited liability companies that own the Mush Inn and the fire-devastated Royal Suite Apartments.
Yoo did not return phone calls or text messages to a representative and did not respond to an emailed list of questions about the business’s tourism-related efforts and the room conditions and criminal activity we witnessed during our visit. The real estate agent listing the property also declined to comment on the record but indicated Yoo would not be responding to our questions.
Constant, the area Assemblyman, said he’s concerned about families and children living at the hotel and said visiting tourists would likely be upset by what they might find inside.
“I think they (tourists) would wonder where they had come to. If Anchorage and Alaska was really a place to live, work and play,” Constant said. “No. This is evidence of real disrepair and sadness.”