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City Council OKs Measure Promoting Polaris Hotel Demolition, Property Redevelopment

KUAC file photo

The Fairbanks City Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday that may finally signal the beginning of the end of the old and decrepit Polaris Hotel building downtown.

The resolution declares the need to move ahead on a years-long effort to tear down the 68-year-old Polaris Hotel building and to redevelop the property. The measure calls for the city to first secure a federal grant to help deal with asbestos, mold and other biohazards that have contaminated the structure over the past 17 years, since it was vacated.

“Our specific task is to take down a 95,000-square-foot building on a 16,500-square-foot site,” said council member David Pruhs, who co-introduced the measure along with June Rogers. Pruhs says it lays out a redevelopment plan that would revitalize downtown and provide needed shops and attractions.

“We have to have a project, we have determined, ready to go with an investor/developer, so we can get the 10 million dollars from a federal entity to do that,” he said.

The entity is the Environmental Protection Agency. The grant would come from the agency’s Brownfields Program, which helps municipalities clean up contaminated properties to make them ready for redevelopment.

But Council member Jerry Cleworth said the redevelopment outlined in the resolution seems limited mainly to a convention and performing arts center.

“I don’t want this to be focused on just one project or two projects,” he said. “There are a lot of exciting things out there that could happen on this property if we ever get the Polaris taken down.”

Cleworth says he’d like to see the resolution also promote more retail shops downtown, including housing and what he called a “high-end marketplace,” “which would bring people into the core -- not only during the day, but also into the evening.”

Pruhs says the non-binding resolution doesn’t necessarily commit the city to building a convention and performing arts center. And he says it assumes much of the redevelopment would include retail shops.

“We all recognize that whatever we do on the first floor of anything built on the Polaris site must have retail economic development in it,” Pruhs said. That's been a focus of the Polaris Work Group, which has been heading a local effort to demolish the building and redevelop the site. The work group has been coordinating closely with the Downtown Association of Fairbanks and Explore Fairbanks, among others. 

Cleworth says he also was concerned about the price tag of some of the some of the redevelopment projects that’ve been proposed for the site.

“There’s an annual deficit projected on the project if it came to fruition of close to one and a half million,” he said. “And again, that’s without the debt service. It would require us raising the sales taxes on hotel/motel at 4 percent, or something. It would require an ongoing subsidy.”

Cleworth proposed a substitute version of the resolution that would include language to broaden the goals of the redevelopment. The measure failed, but Council member Valerie Therrien then proposed an amendment to the resolution that added language promoting construction of major retail outlets and condominiums. 

“I think that this would take into consideration Jerry’s concern,” Therrien said.

The amendment passed, and all six council members then voted to adopt the resolution.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.