Fairbanks hotel plans to close for winter

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge will be closed for much of the winter because of high heating costs and growing competition in the local hotel market.

A decision will be made in the future on whether to operate the property during the summer only, Princess spokesman Bruce Bustamante told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Bustamante said high winter heating costs forced the company to re-examine its business plan. He said additional hotel rooms in the local market also lead to prices being cut at the Princess.

“Those two factors erode our margins,” Bustamante said. “At this point we see our best option is to operate the property during the summer only.”

Some employees will remain through winter for administrative and other work, according to Bustamante. About 180 seasonal positions are still planned for next spring.

Princess employees who lose their jobs are getting first shot at openings at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel. The Westmark is owned by Princess’ parent company, Holland America-Princess Alaska.

The closure of the Princess will affect competition for rooms and meeting space in the winter. There’s been a glut of space during the off-season after several hotels entered the Fairbanks market in recent years.

The Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau’s executive director, Deb Hickok, said competitors will get a much-needed boost by the Princess closure. A corporate focus by Holland America-Princess should help the Westmark become a better space, Hickok said.

“I think ultimately what we’ll get is one really, really good meeting facility instead of two that are kind of working at it,” Hickok said.

The winter closure will affect planned events at the Princess.

A wine tasting event in April had been planned by the Fairbanks Symphony, which was recently notified that the space is now gone. Organizers of an annual conference on sustainable agriculture also are now looking for a new venue.

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