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North Pole chamber fund-raising for community Welcome Center

North Pole Chamber of Commerce
The North Pole Chamber of Commerce is raising money to build a Welcome Center downtown that would look like this image on a flyer the chamber is distributing.

Town’s growth, needs present ‘single greatest opportunity’ to help new businesses, job-seekers

The North Pole Chamber of Commerce is trying to raise a million dollars to build a welcome center for visitors, newcomers and local residents. The chamber plans to help local businesses and job-seekers looking for opportunities in a town with next to two growing military installations — Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base.

Chamber board vice president Howard Rixie pitched the idea last week during a borough Assembly Finance Committee meeting.

“We believe that the North Pole chamber actually has probably the single-greatest opportunity to impact our growth and our success in the North Pole community,” he said.

Tim Elllis/KUAC
Howard Rixie pitched the Welcome Center during last month's North Pole Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Rixie has been making the rounds lately to spread the word about the chamber’s campaign to raise money for a facility it’s calling a Welcome Center. He said in an interview Monday that it’s an opportune time to build the Welcome Center, to among other things provide space for visitors and businesses that formerly operated out of an old log cabin next to the town’s iconic Elf’s Den restaurant.

Rixie says the chamber closed the cabin at the onset of the covid pandemic in early 2020, and it the structure sat shuttered for two years until the virus subsided. But the cabin had deteriorated badly while it was closed-up, so the chamber torn it down and sold the property, and began a fund for a new structure with the proceeds.

Rixie says a bigger and better facility would enable the chamber to provide more services for both visitors and residents who need it even more now that the town is booming due to the buildup of two nearby military installations.

“Originally, he said, “we were just going to build one like a 20-by-28 (foot) cabin, just to replace the old one.”

North Pole Chamber of Commerce
The cabin that housed the chamber's visitors center was built in the 1960s and was used by the chamber from the 1970s until 2020.

But Rixie says he and other chamber officials decided to set their sights higher last fall after the organization surveyed its members about what other services the new facility should offer.

“After we did the survey and everything else, we found out oh my god there’s far more we should be doing, given the population increase from Eielson as well as Wainwright,” he said.

They realized what’s needed is a facility to welcome visitors and help the locals, both newcomers and long-time residents, find the products and services they need to improve their quality of life. He says the facility being called a “Welcome Center” will be especially helpful to new military families.

“Y’know -- all the things that are going through their heads, as far as them getting settled. ‘Hey, the spouse needs a job. We need to find a new church. We need to find what schools are available for the kid.’ ”

Rixie says chamber members also want the Welcome Center to serves as a venue where home-based small businesses can temporarily set up shop to showcase their products or services, while they’re preparing to find their own space.

“Brand themselves, market themselves -- whatever the case may be, and hopefully help them make that transition to brick-and-mortar.”

North Pole Chamber of Commerce
The chamber plans to build the Welcome Center near Pagoda restaurant, in the North Pole Plaza on the west side of the Richardson Highway, opposite the side where the old chamber visitors center was located.

He says the Welcome Center also will provide resources to young adults looking for jobs.

“We want to teach them ‘y’know, hey, this is how you do a resume, this is how you do an interview, this is what payroll deductions are,” he said.

The chamber is trying to raise a million dollars in donations and in-kind contributions to build the 23-hundred-square-foot facility in the downtown North Pole Plaza. Rixie says members have so far collected about 150-thousand in cash and 80-thousand in in-kind donations. Chamber officials are applying for a 600-thousand-dollar state grant and stepping up efforts to raise the rest and begin construction later this summer. If all goes well, they hope to move in in the fall.

“We’re kind of beating the bushes for this month of March to nail down all of it,” and prepare for three big fund-raisers to be held over the next few months. They include a wine-and-cheese soiree in April, a three-day Kansas City-style barbecue event in June and, because it’s North Pole, a Christmas in July celebration.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.