Fairbanks City Council ponders Polaris building

Polaris Hotel. (Photo: Dan Bross / KUAC)

The fate of the Polaris building drew public testimony at a Fairbanks City Council last night, as an ordinance to keep the long vacant downtown high rise under city control was considered. Many who addressed the council spoke against plans to demolish the neglected former hotel.

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The owner of the Polaris hotel owes thousands of dollars in back property taxes over several years. If a portion of the taxes aren’t paid by the end of May the property would go to the Borough. Monday night, the Fairbanks City Council advanced an ordinance that would allow the city to retain ownership of the property. The building has seen better days and contains asbestos and other contaminants. Many would like it torn down. But several who testified Monday, addressed the bottom line. Mike Musick, argued restoring and re-purposing the Polaris made good economic sense.

“I suggest that we take a good hard look at how it might integrate with the plans for the performing arts building and for the convention center,” Musick said. “I think we can save many millions of dollars and probably gather many millions of dollars if we finance this properly.”

The price tag for demolishing the Polaris could run to $6 million. Robert Shields sees hydroponic gardening in the Polaris, and he says dealing with contaminants would be necessary if the building stands or falls.

“We’ve discovered preliminary structural upgrades could cost under $1 million, and I think that’s very significant considering the price the city’s looking at to tear it down,” Shields said.

The ordinance would also see the city paying the borough the tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes if the owner defaults. Sponsor David Pruhs said while it might be cheaper to let the borough hold the building, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.

“This is a long project,” Pruhs said. “The Fairbanks North Star Borough has been very amendable to us and that’s what the cost is. I’d love to have seen that thing refurbished, redone, but it’s not going to happen.”

The council voted to advance the ordinance to the next meeting. By then, Councilman Pruhs hopes to have a plan in place to pay the taxes.

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