Fairbanks is getting close to demolishing its tallest building: the Polaris Hotel

A tall beige building
The Polaris Hotel tower and annex. (Dan Bross/KUAC)

The city of Fairbanks is getting closer to demolishing its tallest building and biggest downtown eyesore: the abandoned 11-story Polaris Hotel. 

Local officials and business owners gathered Tuesday to hear an update on the long-in-the works project.

City officials said they’re awaiting the receipt of a $10 million earmark form Environmental Protection Agency secured for the Polaris demolition by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The city is then planning a two-step approach, starting this winter with demolition of an addition on the Polaris Building’s south side, known as the annex.

“Take the annex down first, and then the tower later,” said city engineer Bob Pristash.

Pristash said the dangerously deteriorated condition of the Polaris has accelerated EPA’s regulatory process.

“I gave them a work plan and they approved it Sept. 28, and now on their website, Nov. 7, is a completed environmental document which is an environmental assessment,” he said. “And they also posted what they call a finding of no significant impact or FONSI, and that’s almost unheard of to have an environmental assessment done in this short a period of time, and open the gates for the money to the city.”

Built in 1952, the Polaris is a historic structure, and demolition of it requires the city to work with the State Historic Preservation Office to recognize and document the building.    

“Basically we are suggesting a plaque and photos of the building taken according to their requirements,” said Pristash.

Meanwhile, Pristash said, anticipates the cost of demolishing the Polaris will be higher than originally estimated due to the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in paint on the concrete structure, which will require the material to be shipped to the Lower 48 for disposal.   

“We’re thinking 14 million, but we don’t know for sure, because we don’t know what the cost of shipping that concrete out is gonna be per unit, per ton,” he said.

City Mayor David Pruhs, who has been involved in the effort to bring down the Polaris from the start, said work is already underway to find funding to cover the additional cost.

“You know every time we go that step forward, it’s a half step back, but we keep going forward, we keep pressing it,” he said.

Pruhs pledged to inform and consult with owners of surrounding buildings and businesses throughout the planning process.

“We are at ground zero I guess you could say,” he said.

Arlette Eagle Lavelle operates Lavelle’s Taphouse next door to the Polaris Building. Lavelle said removal of the Polaris will ultimately be good for her business and Tuesday’s meeting eased concerns about impacts during the demolition.     

“If what they said at the meeting — as far as keeping us, open, clear communication, with access to any reports, and or bids that are going out to the contractors — is true and correct, then there should be no problems,” said Lavelle.

While demolition of the Polaris annex is targeted for this winter, the timeline for the subsequent much larger main hotel tower removal project has yet to be finalized.  

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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