Candidates running for City Council speak out during a forum hosted by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 11:20 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - With election season in full swing, candidates running for seats on the Fairbanks City Council voiced their thoughts on topics ranging from the budget to what should happen next with the Polaris Building in downtown.

The forum was hosted by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, during their weekly luncheon event in the Borealis Ballroom at the Wedgewood Resort. Lisa Cassino-Herbert, Vice President of Public Relations for Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. moderated the event.

This year, candidates running for City Council seat C are Richard Croteau, Sean MacDonald, and Sue Sprinkle, who was not present at the forum.

The winner of this election will take the place of Valerie Therrien. Candidates running for City Council seat D are incumbent Aaron Gibson and Crystal Tidwell.

Each candidate had between 60 seconds and 2 minutes to answer questions from the moderator and audience questions.

They were first asked what motivated them to run for City Council.

Richard Croteau started the forum. “We raised our family here, and Fairbanks has had an awful lot to offer, and I look at my military and civilian career and I thought this could be another good challenge to try, and might not be, but we’ll find out,” said Croteau.

Sean MacDonald followed. “Well I sort of like the direction Fairbanks is headed, and I think progress would be good,” said MacDonald. “I mostly want to see Fairbanks become more of a pedestrian-friendly city. I would like a city where you could safely bike, ride, you know, get your way around, and get to where you need to without being too complicated.” MacDonald ended by saying he liked Fairbanks and wants it to get better.

Incumbent Aaron Gibson said the reason he is motivated to run for re-election is there has been a lot they [council] has accomplished over the last three years and there are still “a lot of things” still to accomplish. “This city has some core missions it needs to work on,” said Gibson. “Snow removal, public safety, those being the two biggest things that the city does. We have a lot of things we can improve upon still in the public safety area and some things we still need to work on.”

Lastly, Crystal Tidwell said the reason she is running for City Council is to continue to devote her energy to improving Fairbanks. “I want to do that through improving our city as a tourist destination. As a great place for us to raise our families and our children, and as a place that provides economic opportunities for everyone that lives here,” said Tidwell. “And that includes our residents that have been here for the last 100 years, to our young people which sadly are leaving our state at a rate as high as 1 to 3. I would personally like to be part of changing that statistic for us,” she stated. Adding, “Fairbanks is just really my home, and I want to do good things.”

Other topics discussed included the rise in inebriated residents in the downtown area and concerns surrounding mental health, public safety, and the impact on tourism.

Revenue generated by bed tax, finding solutions for recruitment and retainment for fire and police services, housing, as well as the working relationship with the City of Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Fairbanks were more topics the panel discussed over the course of the hour.

Another “Hot Button” issue that was discussed was what was to happen with the Polaris Building located in downtown Fairbanks.

“What should be done with the Polaris Building site once the building has been demolished?” asked Cassino-Herbert to the candidates. “And what role do you think the city should facilitate in the process for the community to participate?”

Starting with Croteau, he answered, “Like I said earlier, the city knows property adjacent to the Polaris Building and it is going to provide a good staging area to bring it down,” said Croteau. “I truly believe that and at that point, we need to put out a request for proposals and see what kind of bids we get and ideas that come to move forward. I think that voters should have a say in this. And, I look forward to that coming down, and whatever goes in is going to enhance our tourism and draw our locals downtown.”

MacDonald answered, “I think that the city should take an active role to make sure that something that replaces the Polaris Building should maintain our skyline, that will maintain the square footage,” said MacDonald. “If the Polaris Building was operational today, and had offices, apartments, businesses in it that would be ideal,” he voiced. Adding, “Obviously it is in no condition for that to happen, it has trees growing out of it. So, I would like the City Council to make sure whatever replaces it, is something appropriate to maintain the urban nature of downtown and to accommodate the people that could use it.

Following MacDonald, Aaron Gibson spoke to the audience.

“So I know the Polaris is coming down. Hopefully, we have the money,” said Gibson. “I would like to see the city put out an RFP (request for proposal) to see what the business community can do for that site. Just like we did when we did when we had the offer on the Marriot when the Marriot was built. It is a great hotel, it has a great restaurant in there, it provides great opportunities for people to walk around and have a good meal and visit,” he said. “On top of that, there is other options and opportunities, I did pass the ordinance to sell the parking garage,” he added. “And, I think there are some opportunities with that lot where those could be paired together for a developer to really have something cool downtown.

Finally, Crystal Tidwell ended the question with this statement, “Now that we have accepted that money to demolish and haul away the debris for the Polaris Building, I too would support putting an RFP out to explore what development opportunities and ideas were there,” said Tidwell. " My own personal opinion of that space, I would like to see some open air, area on a ground level where we can have a community that hosts farmers markets, music nights in the city, with some up-scale retail opportunities for local businesses to move in, paired with modern offices or condos,” said Tidwell. “One thing that I have heard people suggest is having a convention center. I don’t necessarily think that is the direction to go, I think that we should continue to revitalize our property of the Carlson Center, we have a large gathering of space already,” added Tidwell.

Another forum will be held next week, Tuesday, August 30, 2022, where two candidates running for Fairbanks City Mayor will speak before the Chamber. Those candidates are David Pruhs and Valerie Therrien.

The meeting will be held once again at the Wedgewood Resort, from Noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Borealis Ballroom.

Municipal Elections will be held on Tuesday, October 4, 2022.