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Developer optimistic about Polaris building

Posted: September 25, 2013 - 12:01am

FAIRBANKS — An Anchorage developer told Fairbanks officials Monday that he remains optimistic that he can pull together investors and grants to remodel an 11-story former hotel that has stood empty for more than a decade.

Mayor Jerry Cleworth remained skeptical but acknowledged it’s not useful to give Marc Marlow new ultimatums because the city cannot afford to demolish the Polaris Building anyway.

At a work session Monday, Marlow said he could start remodeling Fairbank’s largest vacant building by spring 2014 under a best case scenario, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The downtown structure has been vacant for 11 years. The city a year ago declared the Polaris a “dangerous building unfit for human occupancy” and began condemnation proceedings.

Marlow said timing is right for his proposed $20 million transformation of the building to a 117-unit apartment complex. He has hired national accounting firm CohenReznick to seek subsidies, he said.

“This becomes personal because I know this can work,” Marlow said. “The alternative is the building has to be taken down at some point, and at great cost, for nothing. It’s like spending money for nothing. And if it does succeed, the impact in the culture of downtown and just the activity of downtown is so much better.”

The city in September 2012 gave Marlow until next week to meet construction deadlines.

Cleworth said the city should continue moving toward demolition without giving Marlow new deadlines.

“The deadlines he’s been given are simply not going to be met,” he said. “The city can constantly rattle the sword, but the reality is we don’t have the money to take it down, and he (Marlow) knows that.”

Marlow is optimistic he can obtain subsidies. He is targeting a loan guarantee from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a historic property tax credit from the National Park Service and the Treasury Department’s New Market Tax Credit, which come available in February.

He acknowledged that the building is “functionally obsolete,” which means renovation costs will be more than the expected market value of the remodeled building.

An unnamed investor Marlow mentioned to the council at a May meeting remains interested, he said. He did not reveal the investor Monday.

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