Polaris owners grapple with loss
Three weeks after the Polaris Hotel, Bar and liquor store burned down in the Oct. 31 fire, the owners Tina and Kwan Yi are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. In a phone interview from Anchorage with the Nome Nugget, Tina Yi first words were to express condolences to the family of Bette Ann Haugen, who died in the fire. Yi said, their family dog “Baby” also perished in the flames.
“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think if it would have made a difference if we would have been there,” said Yi. She and her husband were in transit to Korea when the fire broke out. She said she received the news on her way between Anchorage to Korea. She has not been to Nome since. “It’s too painful to even talk about it, let alone go there and see it,” she said.
With all office records burned in the fire, Yi is now gathering paperwork to deal with their loss. She said that while they had insurance, their property was not insured to the level that the insurance adjusters pegged the damage: $4.5 to 5 million. According to Yi, the barge order of liquor that was stored in the store alone was worth nearly $500,000. She said the value of the building, the furniture and all that was lost in the flames has yet to be determined, as well as the income lost. She said the hotel was booked out through May 2018 and she is especially worried about all the people who made reservations for Iditarod. The hotel had 34 rooms and four apartments.
“The Polaris is more than a hotel, it is a landmark,” she said.
Eleven years ago, Yi was working as a realtor in Anchorage when she was asked by a friend of Norm Stiles to come to Nome to look at the Polaris as it was to be put of for sale. When the Yi’s met Norm Stiles they immediately built a rapport and decided that it would be a good business opportunity to buy the Polaris. She said their friendship with Stiles continued over the next decade and they even had tickets to visit him in his new home in Thailand. But then came the fire. “He was so sad and heartbroken,” said Yi.
The city has now asked the Yi’s to demolish the ruins of the hotel, a task that Yi said could cost between $15,000 and $17,000.
When asked if they plan to rebuild, Yi said with sadness in her voice that they have yet to decide what to do. “My husband is for medical reasons in Korea right now and I’m trying my best to bring all the information together deal with the situation,” she said. She thanked all the people who sent messages of support and prayers.