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Fairbanks North Star Borough to review options for Carlson Center

Aug 10, 2020

The Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention is hosted by Fairbanks every three years -- and in 2019 was held at the Carlson Center. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KNBA)

A community online forum asked residents for their opinions about the future of the Carlson Center. The contract with the current management company is ending. The Fairbanks North Star Borough will review options for the big arena and convention space on the riverbank in Fairbanks.

The dominant user of the Carlson Center has been the University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey team, whose scheduling of the ice for practices and games has determined much of how the facility has been used. That dominance turns out to be a common gripe among folks who participated in the community forum.

“Hockey tends to limit scheduling other events during the hockey season,” said Tom Diehl, part of the consulting team from a company called GreenPlay, as he reads a list of the Carlson Center’s weak points that had been gathered from stakeholders at three focus groups held earlier.

“There's a lack of recreational indoor program space; cost recovery goals for ongoing operations and maintance; that It's not ideal for concents; trying to meet all the different community needs." 

Participants were asked to review and add to a list of strengths, another list of what events are best for the Carlson Center, and another of priorities for the future.

Participants typed in their suggestions using the online “chat” feature, read out by Becky Dunlap of Greenplay: “The focus needs to be. on the good of the entire community and not just specifically teh soccer or hockey community," Dunlap read.

GreenPlay has been hired to analyze the use and management of the Carlson Center. Last week’s focus groups and community meeting were the fact-finding first steps. The borough Parks and Recreation Department says the study will evaluate the current management and partnerships and get input from stakeholders and the public.

Incidentally, the UAF Nanooks may not be a big player in the immediate future of the facility. The equipment that makes the ice for skating is old and the refrigerant is not made anymore. The entire ice plant is not reliable and until it is replaced, the UAF Nanooks have moved their play back up on to campus.

That deferred maintenance and the cost of running the facility were listed participants and read by Greenplay’s Tom Diehl.

“It’s a very expensive space to operate. The pricing model doesn’t match the community. (There is a) perceived disconnect on price and value. The ice plant is older 'repair'?”

The arena has hosted conventions, trade shows and concerts and is a semi-regular venue for the Alaska Federation of Natives conference. The annual confernece is hosted every three years in Fairbanks. AFN announced in early August that the 2020, which was scheduled to be in Anchorage, will be virtual out of coronavirus concerns. Almost all of the graduation ceremonies in the borough are held during May at the Carlson Center.

Currently, during the pandemic, the arena is setup with hospital beds ready for a surge in COVID-19 patients. But the community space is important to several groups in town.

GreenPlay will work this summer on a needs assessment survey to collect community input. They expect to make a report to the borough in October.