Borough voters handily passed both school bond propositions on Tuesday’s ballot.
Proposition 1 asked voters to OK the sale of about $37.2 million in bonds to replace Ryan Middle School. According to unofficial results, 60 percent of voters said yes, passing the measure by nearly 2,000 votes.
Prop 2 passed by an even wider margin, with 65 percent of votes cast in favor, unofficially. That measure will raise $19.4 million to repair and renovate five other district schools.
Dave Ferree served as co-chaired of the Yes on School Bonds Committee, and he says the vote outcome shows that borough residents understand the importance of investing in schools – even during these economically challenging times.
“Y’know Fairbanks is facing some fairly unique challenges, and I think we all want our schools to be one of our strong points,” he said.
Ferree worked for some 30 years as a school district administrator in charge of facilities maintenance before he retired last year. He says Tuesday’s vote of confidence shows borough residents have confidence in the district to maintain its schools to last as long as possible
“Despite what you sometimes hear, it’s not a frilly operation,” he said. “I think it shows in the support, which has been pretty overwhelming for quite a while.”
Ferree says the state will reimburse the borough for 60 percent of the Ryan Middle School construction costs, and about 70 percent of the cost of the other five projects.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly will welcome only one new member to chambers this year. Janice Golub won Seat C, over Larry Morris.
Both Karl Kassel and Presiding Officer Diane Hutchison will return to serve second terms on the Assembly.
Former Parks and Recreation director and long-time Fairbanks resident Karl Kassel says he’d like to see the Assembly focus on affordable energy during his second term.
“That’s huge; that’s the biggest thing in our community and I think that we’re going to make significant progress on that in the next three years,” Kassel said. “ I think we have to and it’s a necessity really.”
Kassel is the General Manager of a renewable energy system company in Fairbanks. He ran against Brandon Meston, who was not present Tuesday night as election results came in.
Kassel says he’s looking forward to working with Army National Guard Officer Janice Golub, who narrowly edged out opponent Larry Morris. Golub says it was a friendly campaign.
“We agreed early on that there wouldn’t be any kind of animosity during the race, so it’s always nice when you have a campaign like that,” Golub said.
Golub agrees that bringing affordable energy to borough area residents should be the main focus of her first term on the Assembly.
“I think the only thing that Fairbanks is really concerned about right now is energy especially with winter coming and it’s been getting colder out, so that’s our main issue in front of us right now,” Golub said.
Presiding Officer Diane Hutchison’s was the only other open Assembly seat this year. Hutchison will return for a second term, having run uncontested.
About 600 voters took to the polls in Tuesday’s elections.
Incumbent mayor David Jack will keep his position for another year after receiving three-quarters of the vote.
There was a controversial ballot initiative to lower the city and borough sales tax by 1.5 percent. That would have cost the city about $500,000 in lost annual revenue.
That proposition was defeated by 75 percent of the vote.
These results are unofficial until the canvass board meets on Thursday.
In Valdez, only one of five incumbents survived Tuesday’s Municipal Election. Three seats on the City Council and two on the School Board were up for grabs.
Incumbent Mike Wells easily won the most votes in the City Council race with 399 to retain his seat. Ruth E. Knight garnered the second-most votes with 319. Dennis Fleming won the third and final seat on the City Council with 310 votes.
Joe Prax and Alan Sorum were on the city council this time last year. Now, they are on the School Board. Prax gathered the most votes with 435. Sorum was second with 296 votes.
There are 71 absentee and 29 question ballots to be counted. The rest of the ballots will be counted Wednesday at the Valdez City Council Chambers.
Much of the federal government is now shutdown because of Congress’s failure to pass a funding bill.
Huge sections of the government – the costliest ones, like Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits and war-fighting efforts – remain open.
But the shutdown could have huge affects in Alaska, the state with the third highest percentage of federal employees.
It’s unclear how long it will last.
The Senate convened early this morning and promptly dismissed the latest attempts from House Republicans to slash key elements of the Affordable Care Act.
Some federal employees are reporting to work for half days, others have been told to not come in, and some are working, hoping they’ll be back-paid.
Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, says he thinks many people’s fears will come true – that the shutdown will drag on for days, possibly weeks.
“And now that you’ve got the government shut down, I think you’ll see the debt ceiling and this merge together,” Coburn said.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned Congressional leaders the government will no longer be able to pay its bills as of October seventeenth.
Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling by that date or face bedlam in the global economy.
Senator Lisa Murkowski says the shutdown cannot last into the debt ceiling debate.
“I can’t imagine the economic chaos that will be created,” Murkowski said.
Both chambers of Congress could pass bills raising the debt ceiling before the deadline. But if there’s one near certainty in Washington, it’s don’t bank on Congress to give itself breathing room.
This morning, hundreds of workers trickled out of Juneau’s federal office carrying boxes of personal items, plants, and even pet fish — basically, any personal items they might want during their furlough. They won’t be allowed back to their desk until Congress agrees to fund the federal government. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez caught up with some of these workers Tuesday and brings us their voices on dealing with the shutdown.
A 38-unit apartment complex burned down in the Anchorage neighborhood of Mountain View last month, leaving dozens of people homeless.
So far this year, there have been 20 fire calls to multifamily dwellings where the fire spread beyond the room where it started and at least five of them did major damage. All the fires burned older buildings that don’t have to meet modern fire code standards.
Fire investigator, Brian Balega stands outside the charred remains of Glynwood Manor, the apartment complex that recently burned in Mountain View.
“We had an apartment fire back here in this courtyard in the center in the top floor that was extending left and right,” Balega said. ”And by the time we had units – the secondary units start showing up we had fire spreading into these east west branches, so that was pretty quick.”
He’s investigating the cause while cleanup crews sweep debris out of the way. Balega says even though fire fighters responded in just three to five minutes, they couldn’t stop the blaze. The building was a total loss.
This year there have been 20 fire calls to multi-family dwellings where the fire spread beyond the room of origin. That’s nearly double last year’s number and more than any other year in the past decade.
So far, nobody has died in the fires, but seven people were injured. Loss to property and contents combined is estimated at more than $8 million.
Balega thinks some simple things could help prevent big fires, like sprinkler systems, building-wide fire alarms and attic fire breaks – also known as draft stops. They’re plywood walls covered with sheet rock, treated with fire retardant that stop the flow of fire laterally above a ceiling.
“If we would have had a draft stop, in, halfway in this structure to our left, your left, my right, we probably would have had fire stopping halfway on that building and the other half would be saved,” Balega said. ”Yeah, they work, if they’re there.”
So why aren’t they there?
Anchorage fire code grandfathers in older apartment complexes. There have been at least four similar fires to the one at 221 Meyer street in Anchorage this year. The buildings that burned were built from the 50s to the 80s.
Fire Marshal James Gray says Anchorage fire code as it stands, is a collaborative process that involves lots of different stakeholders, and there are limits to what the public and the building community will tolerate.
“Correction of construction deficiencies, correction of fire sprinkler, lack of fire sprinkler, or lack of fire alarm are fairly onerous requirements to put on building owners,” Grays said. ”So they try to give credit for as many existing provisions that you have in the building and they don’t make you put in those retroactive requirements until you hit a certain level.”
Glynwood Manor had been inspected last year and it passed. But sometimes, Gray says he’s understaffed and his department can’t inspect buildings every three years like it’s supposed to.
Anchorage fire code is based on the International Fire Code. It’s updated every three years and approved by the Anchorage Assembly. Jonathan Steele helps write it. He’s an architect with the firm Bettisworth North and a member of the Municipal Building Board. Of the 47 chapters in the Anchorage fire code, he says one chapter is devoted to upgrades to older apartment buildings. It works like this.
“Once a building has been designed and permitted, as long as it’s use doesn’t change they don’t have to do anything other than these mandatory upgrades that are in a very small section of the code,” Steele said.
In the case of the Glynwood Manor fire, even though it had 38 units, which would normally require some safety upgrades – each unit had an exit to the outside. And, according to the code, that exempted the building from the upgrades that could have likely stopped the huge fire. Steele says, with all the big apartment fires lately in older buildings, things might need to change.
“Maybe it needs more inspection; maybe it needs more resources put to the fire department to be on the streets taking a look at existing facilities,” Steele said. ”That might be a solution – the community needs to get behind it, and that would be the community with the Assembly’s support and the Mayor with funding.”
But without making the code more strict, more inspections wouldn’t help much. Fire officials say four out of five of the apartment building fires that KSKA investigated for this story had building-wide fire alarms. None, including Glynwood Manor in Mountain View, had draft stops or sprinkler systems.
Fire Inspector Balega says that could have made a difference.
“If those were in here the potential for us only to have damaged a portion of this building would have been a lot better for us,” Balega said.
The cause of the Glynwood Manor fire is still under investigation.
The Red Cross shelter that housed residents left homeless by the fire closed this past Saturday. A few families are still trying to find housing.
The Institute of Real Estate Management, which represents owners and managers of apartment complexes, in Anchorage was contacted for this story and did not return repeated phone calls. Neither did Victor and Rhonda Smith, the owners of Glynwood Manor. The Smiths own several other older rental properties in Anchorage.
Alaska’s federally run health insurance Marketplace officially launched on Oct. 1 as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Starting Jan. 1, most people in the country will be required to have insurance and the Marketplace will allow them to shop for insurance and qualify for subsidies to help pay for it.
Large amounts of website traffic and other glitches have made it impossible to sign up for insurance on the site so far today, but community advocates for the law are urging patience.
Samantha Longacre sat down with three people early this morning at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic. They were all interested in learning more about their options for buying coverage on Alaska’s Marketplace. But Longacre – a Marketplace enrollment specialist – says none of the potential applicants got very far beyond logging into healthcare.gov.
“And then the first part is to set up an account, just like any other online resource, we could get through step one and step two and kind of ran into glitches,” Longacre said.
Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic has a lot to gain from the marketplace. According to development director Jon Zasada, nearly half of the clinic’s patients are uninsured. He’s hoping to sign up 20 percent of those uninsured patients, about 1,000 people, by March 31, when the open enrollment period closes. Zasada says the marketplace is a huge opportunity for community health centers.
“Anyone that we can add to our patient ranks with insurance just makes our job of ensuring care to everyone in the community a whole lot easier,” he said.
Zasada and Longacre were attending a news conference celebrating the marketplace launch at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. It attracted a glass-half-full kind of crowd. ANTHC’s Valerie Davidson said a few hiccups on the first day were to be expected.
“I remember the very first day the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend program started online enrollment, and let me tell you, there were a few glitches that day,” Davidson said. “But as the system rolled out and people became more comfortable, folks were able to navigate that system and were able to apply for their permanent fund dividends in time to meet the deadline.”
Enroll Alaska, a company that has two dozen insurance agents ready to help people enroll, had a backlog by the afternoon of about 400 Alaskans who wanted help but couldn’t get it because of the website problems. The federal government estimates about 140,000 Alaskans are uninsured, with nearly half qualifying for subsidies to purchase insurance in the Marketplace. Susan Johnson is the Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She says there will be plenty of time to sign up.
“We want people to relax into all this newness because change is hard, this is a new language for most don’t hurry up and get it over with like a shot or something, enjoy the shopping,” Johnson said. “Come in, take a look, make sure you get the help you need, talk to people, get informed, think about it, weigh your decisions, don’t rush today, plenty of time.”
When I logged into to healthcare.gov around 1 in the afternoon and clicked “apply now” a banner appeared across the page that read, “We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we’re working to make your experience here better. Thanks for your patience!”
That’s the same message Joan Fisher found when she signed onto the site this morning. Fisher is the United Way’s lead navigator for the marketplace.
“I think this is history making. I think it’s pretty cool,” Fisher said.
Fisher is setting up a small office on the first floor of Providence Hospital in Anchorage where she’ll be able to help sign people up for insurance, but with the healthcare.gov website not working properly and several media interviews, things were off to a slow start.
“I haven’t even gotten on my computer yet because I haven’t been authorized by Providence,” Fisher said.
Fisher and her fellow navigators would like to sign up thousands of Alaskans for insurance in the next six months, but she’s content to settle in for the long haul rather than sprint out of the Oct. 1 starting gate.
Fisher says anyone who wants the process to go smoothly should make an appointment with her in a few weeks.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
Many Alaskans live their lives by the weather. But how will the government shutdown affect the organizations that provide weather information to the state?
In Barrow at the top of the world, receding sea ice is reshaping life. University of Alaska Fairbanks freshman Nelson Kanuk thinks the state is obligated to combat atmospheric climate change. He argues the atmosphere is a public trust to be preserved for future generations, like clean water or navigable waterways.
Kanuk sued the state last year when he was a senior at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. The lower court dismissed the case, but on Thursday the Alaska Supreme Court is taking it up on appeal. The court will hear oral arguments in Kanuk v. the Alaska Department of Natural Resources at Barrow High School.
This year’s Alaska cruise-ship season has ended. Close to a million passengers sailed through Southeast this summer, with many traveling on to points north and west.
It was a good summer pretty much everywhere in Southeast Alaska. So, we all should have good memories of the season. Right?
The retired lobbyist is one of about two dozen painters, carvers, print-makers, photographers and potters who run the store as a co-operative.
Her family is also in the flight-seeing business, so she knows warm and sunny skies bring in more of those customers. But when it rains, it’s better in the gallery.
“So they’re wandering around town. And all the shops in the downtown area kind of benefit ‘cause they’ve got money to burn,” she says.
The gallery is one of hundreds of businesses around Alaska catering to summer tourists.
They include gift shops, bus tours, salmon bakes, photo safaris and Gold Rush shows.
“I would say for the 30,000 to 40,000 Alaskans like myself that depend on the visitor industry for our livelihood, it was a good season,” says John Binkley, whose family run paddlewheel riverboat and gold-mine tours out of Fairbanks.
The former state lawmaker is also president of the Cruise Line International Association’s Alaska chapter.
“We finally pulled back from a low point here a few years ago to the million-visitor mark on the cruise side. And although we’re not quite back to where the peak was, we’re headed in that direction now,” he says. (Read a report from the start of the season.)
I think everybody’s into the new economy. It’s the new norm and if we’re going to go on vacation we might as well just go and do it,” says Jeannie McFarland, vice president of the Prince of Wales Island Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband also own McFarland’s Floatel, a lodge near Thorne Bay.
“We have a ton of returning people and they bring their friends and their friends’ friends and, of course, it makes our business survive,” she says.
Small-town lodges and other off-the-beaten-path attractions cater mostly to independent travelers. Most larger businesses depend on those aboard cruise ships.
This year’s projected million-passenger mark was expected to be the best since 2009, before politics and the recession brought them down.
Binkley says a couple of late-season factors made the total lower.
“We lost a few ports of call due to weather. And also there were some mechanical problems with one of the ships and a couple of the actual cruises were cancelled near the end of the season,” he says.
But still, it was a good year. And that’s part of a trend.
“Between 2010 and 2012, visitor industry employment increased by 7 percent in Southeast Alaska. That’s 400 jobs,” says Meilani Schijvens of Sheinberg Associates, who authored a recent regional economic report.
She says next season will be a bit different.
“In 2014, the number of cruise ship passengers visiting the region actually might be slightly lower than it is this year by 23,000 passengers. And that’s because two Princess ships will be redeployed and replaced by a very small amount of less capacity,” she says.
Binkley says the ship shuffle comes as lines try to avoid new, stronger federal air-pollution regulations along the U.S. coast.
“They’ve been working under the assumption that the emission control area, which requires them to burn very expensive fuel, would be in effect. And that influenced their decisions to move ships to other locations,” he says.
Carnival and some other cruise lines have won waivers from those rules in exchange for installing new emissions control equipment.
But that happened after schedules were set. So any change won’t hit Alaska til 2015.
Some in the industry expect more growth in future years, pushing numbers to new highs above the million-passenger mark. A question is: how much will tourists be willing to spend?
“We definitely noticed that trend of people spending less money and being careful and watching for things that are on sale,” says Juneau Artist Gallery member Thyes Shaub.
“I think that maybe a few more people are spending a little bit more. But I think they’re still being pretty careful with their money. We’re still seeing a lot of people that come and pay cash. I think that people decide this is the amount I’m going to spend on my trip and when that’s gone out of my little satchel, I’m done,” she says.
The large cruise lines sailed 28 ships to Alaska ports this year, one more than in 2012. Together, they made close to 500 separate voyages.
The Red Cross of Alaska unveiled a new Mobile Emergency Response Communications Center at their headquarters in Anchorage Tuesday afternoon.
“When the satellite dish is up and fully operational, it will allow them to link into a satellite which will give them Internet access to the Lower 48 or the state of Alaska,” Michael O’Keefe, with the American Red Cross of Alaska, said. ”And that goes to this controller system right here.”
He’s standing at the back of what resembles a small U-Haul trailer pointing to a bunch of electronics held inside. It’s the organization’s new Mobile Emergency Response Communications Center, or MERCC for short.
The MERCC unit looks like a U-Haul trailer with a big antenna and a satellite dish sticking out of the top.
Laura Spano is a spokesperson for the Red Cross. She says the The MERCC can be put onto a plane and sent to rural Alaska when disaster strikes.
“Say we’re up, you know Western Alaska; there’s a remote village that’s hit by an earthquake or a winter storm.: Spano said. “We’ll be able to either deploy the entire communications center or we can send these flyaway kits that hold a satellite phone, a cell phone, mifi so a mobile Internet. In case towers are open, it has a laptop.”
The trailer unit can accommodate 48 hard-line Internet connections and broadcast Wi-Fi for up to a quarter mile. It runs on a diesel generator. The MERRC unit, including the flyaway kits cost about $182,000. It was paid for by a 2012 $300,000 grant from the state of Alaska.
The remainder of the money goes toward training, maintenance and staff over site.
About six Red Cross volunteers are trained to operate the MERCC so far, and more are scheduled to be trained this year.
A shutdown of federal government was triggered Monday night, after House Republicans tried to use a funding resolution to stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Alaska’s two senators came out against the tactic, and both Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich let a clean resolution without the health care rider move forward.
But what would the Republican Senate candidates who are challenging Begich have done if they had been in office instead?
Joe Miller, who tried to unseat Murkowski in 2010, says he would have aligned himself with the bloc of Republicans who want to make funding the federal government contingent on delaying the new health care law.
“I think that that really is the baseline. That’s the start point for discussion.”
Miller describes his stance as the “compromise position,” and in a press release accused President Barack Obama of holding Americans “hostage to Obamacare.” Obama used similar language to describe the House Republican effort to peg a delay of the new law to a routine budgeting bill.
Because Democrats are in charge of the Senate and the White House, any legislation that would roll back the new health care system is basically dead on arrival. Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to repeal it without success.
Miller says if Republicans don’t have any luck blocking the law this time around, he’d like to see members of his parties make raising the country’s borrowing limit conditional on getting rid of the new health care program, at least temporarily.
“Assuming that this issue is still not resolved at that point, I would support a package which delayed implementation for a year in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling.”
If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the United States might have to default on its loans — an outcome that’s expected to hurt the country’s financial credibility and damage the economy.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who is also running for Senate, shares some of Miller’s sympathy for House Republicans on this issue. On a conservative talk radio program last week, Treadwell called them “courageous” for trying to defund the new health care law. But his spokesperson says that doesn’t mean he wants a government shutdown. When asked if Treadwell would allow a clean budget resolution to advance, spokesperson Rick Gorka said that he would instead push for continued negotiations between the two parties.
Dan Sullivan, a former Natural Resources commissioner who is expected to announce his candidacy soon, did not return a request for comment.
In just a few hours, we’ll find out whether the federal government will stay open. For days, Congress has struggled to pass a budget, because a bloc of Republicans want to cut out funding for the Affordable Care Act. If Congress doesn’t reach a resolution, it’ll be the first shutdown in nearly 20 years. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez explains what that means for Alaskans, laying out the five biggest impacts.
On October 1st, the federal government will launch its health insurance marketplace in Alaska. Several groups in the state are starting to get the word out about how residents can sign up for health plans under the law.
If you lived in Oregon, hipster musicians would be trying to convince you to sign up for health insurance. In Washington, the state would be angling for your attention with a more traditional advertising approach. In Alaska though, Governor Sean Parnell is a big critic of the health reform law and the state isn’t doing anything to advertise the federally run health insurance exchange. But other organizations are eager to help fill the gap.
“People are going to have questions about federal health care reform, we’re there to provide answers via website or phone.”
Eric Earling is a spokesperson for Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska. Premera is one of two companies that will offer health insurance plans in the marketplace. The company recently launched an advertising campaign with a TV spot.
Premera also sells health insurance in Oregon and Washington. Those states are running their own marketplaces. Earling says because of that, they are far ahead of Alaska in getting the word out about what a health insurance marketplace is and how it works. So he says Premera’s ads in Alaska had to focus more on the basics:
“We simply want to make sure there is a straightforward approach to raise awareness levels of information about federal health care reform and where people, most importantly, can go to get answers.”
Earling is, of course, hoping Alaskans go to Premera for answers and then buy insurance from the company. Another ad campaign on the marketplace launch isn’t steering residents toward a specific insurer. It’s from Enroll Alaska, a division of Northrim Benefits Group, that sees a business opportunity in helping people sign up for insurance under the new law.
Tyann Boling is heading up Enroll Alaska. She says the group is hiring 35 insurance agents who will be based in Walmarts, Sam’s Clubs and hospitals in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Kodiak and Soldotna. Boling says the ad campaign includes print, web, radio and tv:
“There was not anybody else out there that was going launch a major marketing outreach and education campaign for individuals to get the information about the benefit that many of them will receive due to the Affordable Care Act.”
Enroll Alaska’s insurance agents will earn a commission when they sign consumers up for a health plan, but it won’t cost consumers any more to buy insurance through an agent. A much smaller number of so-called navigators will be doing similar work. The federal government gave the United Way of Anchorage $300,000 to hire four navigators who will be based in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks. Joan Fisher is the lead navigator. She’ll be working out of Providence hospital in Anchorage:
“We listen to their story, find out where they are, then we will go online and we can assist them on making a comparison between the marketplace plans.”
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has its own navigator and outreach program. You can also navigate the new insurance options on your own at healthcare.gov starting October 1st. A report released recently shows Alaskans will be paying some of the highest insurance premiums in the country in the marketplaces. But that was also true long before health reform became law.
Sequestration federal funding cuts are across the board unless an exemption is made by Congress. The Indian Health Service has not been exempted and non-profit corporations all over the state, like the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation based in Bethel, are feeling the hit.
This is the last day that the tsunami warning center in Palmer, Alaska will be the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. Tomorrow, Oct. 1, the center’s new name will be the national Tsunami Warning Center.
Center director Paul Witmore says the name change better reflects what the center monitors.
“For the past 7 years, the center has been responsible for the east coast, the Gulf coast, eastern Canada, Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands as well as the west coast of the United States and Alaska. So it’s a much better representation of the area we’re responsible for,” he said.
Witmore says the current name has been in place for 17 years and caused confusion for east coast residents who assumed tsunami warnings issued from the Palmer facility didn’t include them. He says he’s hopeful the new name will catch on and provide clarity.
“Our messages are very clear as to what people are impacted by the message, so we expect it will be ok.”
Also tomorrow, the National Weather Service is rolling out some significant changes to the marine weather forecasts.
Travel Channel’s reality show Hotel Impossible wrapped up filming at Juneau’s famed Alaskan Hotel this weekend. KTOO’s Lisa Phu caught up with the show’s host and designer during their third day of shooting and has this story.
Anthony Melchiorri is the host of Hotel Impossible.
“If people are looking for this hotel to be restored, to come into the lobby and see it completely redone, and just, ‘Oh my god,’ that’s not going to happen,” he says.
Most TV viewers want to see the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effect of a hotel makeover, but Melchiorri says his job is more about what’s not as obvious.
“My show is not about renovation. My show is about repositioning hotels and really giving them the plans to move forward. I’m more interested in the infrastructure of the operations and how people communicate and deal with each other. My job is to reengage the spirit of the hotel,” explains Melchiorri.
The Alaskan Hotel in downtown Juneau opened one-hundred-years ago and is the oldest operating hotel in the state. Owners Bettye Adams bought the hotel in 1977 with her husband Mike; it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
“I think of the hotel as beyond wood and nails. It is organic, it is a process, it’s a state of mind, it’s a historic museum, it’s a family,” says Bettye Adams.
Adams remembers the phone call that got her on Hotel Impossible.
“The first thing that the fellow said, ‘Well, how would you like an hour on the Travel Channel on national television?’ and I went, ‘Hmmm, let me think about that – yes,’” she says laughing.
After she accepted the offer in August, Adams says she watched episodes of the show and got nervous about being humiliated on television. By the third day of shooting, Adams was over it.
“You just have to decide that they’re going to stomp on your ego and let it go,” she says.
That same day, Melchiorri says he was about to have a nervous breakdown.
“Every single time I take over a hotel on this show, I feel like I’m going to throw up. People think this is fake. Ask anyone I dealt with today if this is a fake show. I isolate myself. I don’t speak to anyone unless the cameras are rolling and I don’t know what they’re going to say or what I’m going to say.”
Outside of television, Melchiorri is a hotel consultant. He’s managed numerous hotels, including the New York Plaza, and was senior vice president of a hotel management company.
When asked what he thinks is a challenge for the Alaskan, “The bar is loud, and when you have 45 rooms sitting on top of a bar, that’s like a bear wrestling a fish, the bear always wins, so that’s a problem,” Melchiorri says.
On the positive side, Hotel Impossible designer Blanche Garcia says the hotel’s historic value is a strength.
“As a designer, you get a lot of inspiration, so I, of course, would not put a New York SoHo loft in here, whatever I did, or put grass on the walls or things like that, so you’re working apropos to the area,” she says.
Will the beloved Alaskan bar be part of the makeover? Nope, says hotel owner Adams.
“I think the bar would stand up and just resist. No, it’s not going to change,” Adams says.
The episode at the Alaskan Hotel will kick off Hotel Impossible’s fourth season which will air sometime next year.
This is the second Alaska hotel to be featured on the show. Hotel Impossible worked on Yakutat’s Glacier Bear Lodge in 2012. Melchiorri says that was the show’s highest rated episode.
Jonathan Waterman has traveled with camera and pencil from the top of Denali to the coastline of the Canadian Arctic chronicling more than three decades of adventures. His latest book, Northern Exposures is out from the University of Alaska Press. It’s a compilation of some of his previously published stories and many never before-seen photographs.