This weekend — from Thursday, February 28, to Sunday, March 2 — Fairbanks will be host to the Alaska Library Association annual conference. About 300 librarians (professional and paraprofessional) from around the state will meet, confer, and otherwise hobnob with their fellow information wizards at the Princess Riverside Lodge. In between sessions on library software, web technology, graphic novels, children’s literature, intellectual freedom, and online learning, they’ll get to walk around town and enjoy Fairbanks’s natural beauty and cultural amenities.
From their hotel.
By the airport.
The Princess is a fine hotel. (Although, in an environment that is so dark for so much of the year, painting a building gray is an assault against taste.) But it makes me sad that, when my colleagues come from hundreds of miles around, they will have no places to walk to and no chance to leave the confines of their hotel without the aid of a taxi. I want them to leave with the memory of having been someplace interesting and exciting, not of having been trapped in a hotel.
I went last summer to the American Library Association‘s convention in Washinton, D.C. (which, I grant, is situated far differently from Fairbanks). The Washington Convention Center, a very modern set of buildings, is located in central D.C., and is practically surrounded by historical buildings, restaurants, retail, parks, residences, and of course centers of national government. A convention-goer with an hour between sessions might have found several places within easy walking distance to get a bite to eat; with two hours, he or she might have walked to see some of our national treasures. And if that conventioneer needed something farther away, a subway station was located immediately outside the convention center.
Believe me, I have no desire to see Fairbanks become just like Washington. But a convention site, especially one expected to draw people from out of town or out of state, should offer visitors more than just the convention. It should be a gateway to the town, so that visitors have an easy opportunity to see the sights, get some lunch, visit local officials, take a walk, sit in a park, watch people, and — naturally — do some shopping. Convention-hosting hotels should view themselves not as islands of hospitality, but as integral contributors to the local economy. (I note one exception: the bed-and-breakfast in the woods, which is suited to the visitor seeking to be surrounded by boreal forest most of the time.)
The Vision Fairbanks plan for the revitalization of downtown calls for a convention center and hotel on Cushman, at the south end of the 1st-to-Airport stretch that is to be our “signature street”. A hotel and convention center combination in the heart of town would (1) make Fairbanks an attractive option for national organizations looking for a place to hold a convention, (2) offer our visitors something more memorable than their convention by the airport, and (3) give a needed boost to the local economy.
Our local economy needs that boost. And our visitors deserve some rich memories of our town.