NORTH POLE (AP) -- The world's largest Santa Claus is getting a makeover.
In preparation for the holidays, the 48-foot statue of Santa Claus that fronts the Richardson Highway will be spruced up as part of a nationwide highway landmark restoration program sponsored by Hampton Inns.
Santa is the company's fifth endeavor and the first in Alaska.
''It's the biggest, most challenging project we've done,'' said Melissa O'Brien, senior communications manager for Hampton Inn. The company is paying $40,000 for the upgrade.
Since the ''Explore the Highway with Hampton'' program began in April, work has been done on the world's largest duck, located on Long Island, N.Y.; the ''Rain of Arrows'' in Mancos, Colo.; the mission bell markers in San Diego, Calif., and a ''See Rock City'' barn in eastern Tennessee.
''We'd been wanting to have it restored,'' said Darryl Carnley, director of marketing at Santa Claus House. ''They're doing a great job, and it's coming along well.''
The work requires the oversize Santa to be tucked inside a huge heated opaque bubble.
Workers for McKinley General Contractors wrapped the 900-pound fiberglass Santa in a 100-foot diameter parachute and placed three forced-air heaters inside to keep the enclosure warm.
For the paint to dry, the air has to be at least 40 degrees. On Wednesday, two McKinley employees painted inside the parachute.
''There's not a lot of room in there,'' he said.
By next Tuesday, nearly 20 gallons of red, white and black paint will spruce up the Santa, an Interior tourist attraction since 1983. The statue was created prior to the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle by Stanley Plastics of Enumclaw, Wash. He originally smoked a pipe that blew clouds of steam and waved an arm.
Santa stood next to the chamber of commerce cabin in downtown Anchorage before being put in storage. The Miller family purchased the statue for $4,500 and had it shipped to Fairbanks on a train and to North Pole by truck. The family spent more than $15,000 to get it back in good condition.
It's been about 10 years since the Santa was polished up, Carnley said.
Hampton representatives will be at Santa Claus House on Tuesday to unveil the refinished statue, distribute gifts and deliver children's Christmas letters that the company has received over the Internet.
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