Developer Plans to Renovate Polaris Building in Fairbanks

An Anchorage developer, with plans to refurbish the derelict Polaris building in downtown Fairbanks, is seeking additional concessions from the city.  Marc Marlow, who owns the empty 11 story apartment and commercial building, is seeking waiver of about $150,000 in planning and permit fees for the renovation project.  Marlow has already been granted local property tax breaks worth around $1 million, and he told the city council at work session last night, the additional concession is small relative to the benefits of bringing the 60 year old Polaris back to life.

Marlow said eliminating the city fees would help him cover about a $600,000 shortfall in financing the $19 million project.  Marlow, who’s Native American, outlined a complicated web of loans and tax credits he, or the project qualify for, through federal housing, historic preservation and Bureau of Indian Affairs programs.  The reaction to Marlow’s request was mixed by the city council.  Member Emily Bratcher questioned Marlow’s request for additional breaks from the city.

Bratcher was also suspect of demand for apartments in the 1950’s era high rise, but Marlow has experience turning around old buildings.  He renovated the McKinley Building in Anchorage, where he says there’s a waiting list for apartments. Marlow assured the council that his plan calls for making the Polaris a desirable place to live.

Marlow said there’s currently less than 1 percent vacancy in market rate apartments in Fairbanks. His Polaris plan calls for the building’s first and top floors to be made available for commercial use, and for tenants to rent space in the underused downtown parking garage. Council member Vivian Stiver was receptive to Marlow’s request for fee waivers.

Stiver has personal experience making an aging downtown building successful.  She renovated the former Caribou Pawn building into a coffee shop and apartments.  The council would have  to pass an ordinance to grant the permit and planning fee waivers to Marlow, w ho hopes to start work on the Polaris project next summer.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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