New Life in Alaska’s Golden Heart

Westmark Fairbanks’ renovation raises the bar

By: Christopher Batin

FAIRBANKS, Alaska Throughout its many reincarnations over the past 50 years, the Fairbanks Westmark Hotel has been a mainstay among tour and independent travelers visiting the Golden Heart of Alaska. A recent $34 million renovation has catapulted this Fairbanks landmark to a hotel superstructure (by Interior Alaska standards) that is the epitome of cutting-edge technology and comfort.

The Westmark Hotel and Conference Center is located in the heart of downtown Fairbanks and is bordered by the First National Bank of Anchorage on its west side, a medical building to the south and private housing to the north and east. The hotel is now the tallest occupied building in Fairbanks, and has added 264 new rooms and 86 suites totaling 400 rooms.

The facelift has polished the hotel’s image from entrance to exit from meticulous landscaping to tastefully decorated hallways and plush suites with DVD players and plasma-screen televisions.

Guests arrive by car, air, railroad or bus, and depending on time of day and year, the main lobby can be a hub of frenzied activity or a contemplative resting area.

“Cruise and tour groups comprise 92 percent of our guests here during the 111-day tourist season,” said Robert Harmon, Westmark general manager. “And we currently offer more meeting space than any other hotel in Fairbanks. Our staff deals with cruise passengers all the time, and are educated in Alaskana.”

Immaculate Accommodations

Starting last year, cruise-ship clients who took land-based tours that included an overnight at the Westmark had their hotel keys issued to them on the bus prior to arrival, so they could proceed directly to their room without waiting to check in. On the way to their rooms, have your clients first explore the lobby and winding hallways and restaurants, where they may find anything from ice sculptures to original Alaska artwork.

At 350 square feet, the standard guestroom here is on par with other hotel rooms in downtown Fairbanks. Executive suites are 450 square feet and can exceed 900 square feet when adjacent rooms are reserved. Ask for rooms that are on the seventh floor or higher, which on a clear day, provide the best view of the rolling hills to the north, or portions of the Alaska Range to the south.

Standard rooms are adequately furnished with queen- or king-sized beds, in-room ironing board and iron, hair dryer, coffeemaker, cable TV, two phones and lighted closets. Handicap options are available in select rooms. Rooms are immaculately clean, with no leaking or corroded pipes, stained carpets or yellowed grout in bath areas.

The bells and whistles can be found in the multi-roomed business suites like the Bear and Seal suite.

Opulent in design and function, this $500-a-night suite has a chromatherapy soak tub. The effervescent bubbles from 11 specially engineered air jets lightly caress the skin. Four LED light ports positioned on the inner walls of the 66-inch tub have Aurora-like colors cascading through the water. A spigot in the ceiling fills the tub and the water overflows into a moat around the tub, creating a soothing, yet relaxing sound of a small waterfall.

The entire bathroom is tiled in a multi-colored glass tile. The shower large enough for several people has 12 separate jets for additional comfort and relaxation. The plasma television which also serves as a dressing mirror has a waterproof remote that floats around in the Jacuzzi like a small boat.

The suite also offers a dining table that converts into a meeting area for eight people, a large plasma TV capable of projecting PowerPoint presentations, and two workstations. One could spend an entire evening exploring the technological marvels and design of this room.

Should your clients manage to make it out of their rooms for some exercise, the 800-square-foot fitness center includes eight treadmills and rowing and elliptical cross trainers. Due to liability issues, however, there is no weight-training equipment. The room is well lit and furnished with towels and a drink machine. The center is open from 5 a.m. to midnight.

State-of-the-Art Conference Facilities

The state-of-the-art Walter Harper Boardroom was named in honor of Walter Harper, an Athabascan native who was the first man to stand on the summit of Denali (Mount McKinley) on June 7, 1913. Conference facilities include 13 function rooms totaling over 16,700 square feet, the most meeting space of any hotel in Fairbanks.

The Tanana Trade Center offers enough floor space to hold 22, eight-foot by eight-foot show spaces. Three breakout rooms, a 5,400-square-foot ballroom and separate dining or meeting rooms makes this a quality conference support facility that can handle up to 400 people.

During the summer season, the individual traveler may feel overwhelmed by the influx of tourists and occasional lull in normally speedy service, or might not be able to affordably indulge in the many luxuries the business suites offer. Other Fairbanks hotels give the Westmark a run for its money in terms of restaurants or location, but none offer as many business and conference features under one roof.

In summary, the Westmark Fairbanks is ideally suited to serve the needs of additional tourism traffic, and business or government clientele, with its big-time conference facilities and technology and its quality accommodations in Alaska’s Golden Heart City.

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