With four retail levels, the $67 million Fifth Avenue Mall is essentially vertical, unlike spread-out suburban malls. It was one of the final projects during the ambitious Project 80s building boom, and it was intended to draw Anchorage residents into downtown to shop. The mall connects directly to an existing J.C. Penney's store which serves as its anchor. Two skybridges connect the mall to building across the street, one to an adjacent Nordstrom's and another to a twelve-hundred-car parking garage, built by the city at a cost of $27 million.
Designed by Kober/Sclater Associates of Seattle, the mall has a busy exterior. Because malls need few windows—in fact they are incompatible with an interior focus—the vast walls of a downtown mall provide an interesting design problem. Here, the architects decided on a trompe l'oeil effect, with large, small-paned glass windows, which are, in fact, blind. The rose-colored brick of the exterior is ornamented at the top with a double row of darker colored squares, also resembling windows. Beneath this running pattern and between the large blind windows are dark vertical piers. At ground level, there are actual show windows that are hooded by canopies. The interior is finished with tiles, neon, and stainless steel for a hip, jazzy effect. A saucer-shaped skylight at the northeast corner lights the food court on the fourth level and the courts at each of the levels below.
Because of a severe dip in the economy just as this building was nearing completion, it opened to a landlord's nightmare, with only 10 of the 110 stories occupied. Although the economy never recovered to the boom years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the mall eventually gained tenants, including national retailers such Apple, Lululemon, Starbucks, and Banana Republic, and several local stores tailored to tourism. In addition to the fourth-floor food court, a Sullivan’s Steakhouse is accessible through the mall and at street level. The most recent recession that began in 2015 has put pressure on the mall. Although it was never a tenant in the mall, the Nordstrom’s department store on Sixth Avenue long served as a retail anchor in downtown Anchorage until it closed in 2019. Located across the street from the mall's south entrance and attached to it via an elevated and enclosed foot bridge that crosses Sixth Avenue, Nordstrom's ensured a greater level of foot traffic in and out of the mall and provided shoppers with a well-established upscale retail option. The adjacent parking garage (on Sixth Avenue) also faces an uncertain future. It is in violation of updated city codes and may face demolition in the years to come. The mall is operated by Simon Properties and retains a central role in the Alaska retail sector despite financial uncertianites sparked by the state's economic recession.