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City Council Approves Sale Of Old City Hall; Building To Be Made Into Distillery

The Fairbanks City council has approved sale of the old City Hall to a local businessman who plans to turn the historic CushmanStreet building into a distillery.  The council approved sale of the building to Patrick Levy for its appraised value of $180,000.

The sale follows a decision by the city to get out of the landlord business. The former City Hall is currently occupied by the Fairbanks Community and Dog Mushing Museums, and the Community Service Patrol program, organizations which were unable to put together a purchase offer. City council member Chris Anderson expressed concern about tourism impacts if the downtown building goes from a museum to a distillery.

"I doubt that very many people who come up here to Alaska, the last frontier, are coming here for the sole purpose of, perhaps, looking at distilleries. I think a museum is probably the best thing that could happen to those people that are dropped off or are going to be dropped off downtown," Anderson said.

The planned craft distillery would allow customers to sample small quantities of alcohol made on site, and purchase larger amounts for consumption off premises.  Mayor John Eberhart expressed optimism for the project’s tourism generating potential, given what he saw during a recent trip to Louisville, Kentucky.

"The mayor of Louisville invited us on what was written in the program as a cultural tour. That cultural tour ended up being a tour of Evan Williams Bourbon distillery, right in the middle of Louisville," Eberhart said."It was very professionally done. It wasn't the sort of place where if you're intoxicated or stumbling around or something you're even going to get through the door. I learned a lot of history, it was very professional and they ended up leaving you in their gift shop."

The old city hall is in rough condition and Council member Jim Matherly said a business is likely a better alternative for seeing it upgraded than the non-profit museum. 

"I don't think there's a lot of money there for them to fix it and to do things to it. I love what they do, but maybe a different facility is what they need. Where Mr. Levy can take it and run with it, and have pride of ownership and make it a working business for downtown," Matherly said.

The council approved the resolution supporting the sale 5 to 1 with member Anderson casting the no vote. The sale is contingent on the North Star Borough assembly’s changing zoning to allow operation of a distillery in the downtown area. The assembly considers the zoning ordinance during a regular meeting Thursday night.  The state legislature approved a bill this past session allowing craft distilleries in Alaska.

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.