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Soldotna voters will determine visitor center move

Posted: February 9, 2012 - 1:07pm  |  Updated: February 13, 2012 - 11:44am

The future of the Soldotna Visitor Center will be left up to city voters.

The Soldotna City Council passed a resolution during their Wednesday night meeting calling for a special election on May 1. The election will determine whether the city will be allowed to purchase the former Hutchings Auto Group building for the relocation of the Soldotna Visitor Center. The Hutchings Auto Group building sits at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur Highways and comes with a price tag of $2.1 million.

Part of the Soldotna city code states that any property purchase over $2 million requires ratification by voters, city manager Larry Semmens said during the meeting.

“All we’re doing is putting it to the voters,” Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche said. “And if it does pass, we would be purchasing the property but future improvements to the property are not part of the resolution.”

The current Soldotna Visitor Information Center location is about 1,000 square feet, with about half of that room dedicated to the wildlife display, Tami Murray, visitor center coordinator told the council.

“Our facility is way too small for what we’re doing there,” she said. “We get 45,000 to 50,000 people through there all year, most of that is May to September.”

The current location in reference to the highway also proves troubling, especially trying to turn left into the parking lot during the busy months, Murray said.

“We had tour busses that used to come to our facility, but getting in and out of our place — now it’s just tough and dangerous,” she said.

The proposed building would give the visitor center more elbow room at 2,250 square feet. With more space, there would be a possibility of doubling as a convention center in the future.

“At this point in time the only place for a large function is the ice rink, and that requires either covering up the ice or taking out the ice,” Pat Cowan, a member of the Soldotna chamber, said during public testimony. “This is a fantastic opportunity and one that seldom comes to a city our size.”

Micciche said having the visitor center at the proposed location would reflect the Envision Soldotna 2030 comprehensive plan.

“If you look at the plans for the downtown area, this meets a lot of those objectives,” he said.

If the voters support the purchase, the current building will be put up for sale to offset some of the cost of the new building, Micciche said.

“If you think about how important the tourism and visitor industry is to the economy of the city of Soldotna and the challenges the visitor center (has),” Micciche said. “We felt that it was proper to the voters in Soldotna to become knowledgeable of the issues and vote on the building.”

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michelle Glaves said if the vote goes through, the time it would take the Chamber to move into the new building is unknown. 

 In other business:

  • The council passed a resolution to execute a contract with Tauriainen Engineering and Testing for $73,703 for the Well House “B” reconstruction project.
  • The council passed a resolution supporting the improvement of Soldotna High School’s outdoor athletic facilities. 

 

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robert white
378
Points
robert white 02/09/12 - 03:25 pm
0
0
visitor center

This is a really bad idea, we already have a visitor center that works just fine.... First it was a over priced golf course, now it's a failed car dealer trying to get into our pockets!

kenaibear2001
119
Points
kenaibear2001 02/09/12 - 05:03 pm
0
0
Visitor Center

I feel this is a really good idea, as the current Visitor Center is probably in the worse location one could put a Visitor Center.

Anyone who has taken visitors to the present location, has at one time or another, come close to being hit either entering or exiting the location. Traffic in the area is incredible during most of the Summer. How many of us have been behind a North bound Tourist trying to turn into the visitor Center, or someone wanting to exit to KBeach having a vehicle pull out of the lot, trying to go Southbound?

The proposed location, offers easier access, larger facilities in which to expand, and EASY access to the BEAUTIFUL new park, the people of Soldotna built. That whole area is now a tourist attraction, and having the VC there just makes good sense.

Like most things on this Peninsula, we have people jealous that a failed car dealer may be able to sell his place, ... so the thing to do is stir up everyone with baloney, and stall, and stall, when we all know that sooner or later, the VC will be moved, and then we will be paying 5.6 million for the same place.

For a Town that promotes tourists, turning the old Hutchings Auto Dealership into a tourist Center, with the VC headquarters, would eliminate an eye sore the people visiting this town see's when entering, and welcome them to River City.

Allen
579
Points
Allen 02/09/12 - 09:29 pm
0
0
Kudos to the Soldotna City

Kudos to the Soldotna City Council for complying with their capital projects ordinance requiring voter approval, instead of playing games to get around it like other local governments on the Peninsula. Like Kenai did with the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center. If the project is worthy, people will vote for it.

bigbadbob
54
Points
bigbadbob 02/10/12 - 12:08 pm
0
0
Allen, ever consider moving

Allen, ever consider moving to soldotna? I'm sure they would enjoy you there.

jimbob
74
Points
jimbob 02/10/12 - 08:12 pm
0
0
A Bad Decision

Another example of a small hick town council out of control. This mayor and council act as if money is no object and that the little town has 100,000 residents. There is no justification for another huge expense for an unneccessary facility which will have to be maintained by the taxpayers. Meanwhile they are trying to change to home town rule so they can raise your taxes to pay for these corrupt goals. Seems to be the thing now days to get in the government handout line and that is what the failed car dealer wants. If the property is worth 2.1 million, they should put it on the open market. Time for a change in Soldotna council. How many more schemes will we see?

kenaialaskawoman
5
Points
kenaialaskawoman 02/10/12 - 09:10 pm
0
0
Allen

The Visitors Center in Kenai was built over 20 years ago. It was not necessary to seek a vote of the people on that facility. I believe it was also supported with a Federal grant. Nothing was done unlawful, it did not require a vote of the people. Since then, a convention center has been before the voters (I believe 3 times) and turned down by the residents.
As with any capital project, it really isn't the building or purchase of a facility that is expensive, it is the ongoing operational expenses. Would be interesting to see how much the visitors center, in Kenai actually costs to run annually.
Is there a fiscal note attached with this sale, for renovation, and yearly operating costs?
Allen, you might want to consider running for council or Mayor of Kenai so you can fix all the wrongs.

soldotna
50
Points
soldotna 02/11/12 - 09:48 am
0
0
WFT?

Since when is it the cities job to own all the road front propriety in the area.

Big deal its close to the Soldotna creek park. If this is so important why not just use that whole park area and build the new visitors center there. Then go knock down the old visitors center and use that for a new park area?

I don't understand how taking land that pays taxes and then buying it is good for anyone?

So the city buys that land then spends MILLIONS on fixing it up and building a new visitor center. Then the city still owns the old land down the road also because it can't be sold so its going to have to be given to a non profit. So the city spends money looses tax base and really gains nothing in the long run but another whole in the ground.

I don't really understand how you can look at whats going on in the government and see that spending our way out of this whole that has been created thing is not working. So now our city is going to try and do it in a smaller scale because why?

it is not the cities place to own all the land and create jobs its the cities place to create an friendly environment for business to want to come in and create jobs.

If this is such a good idea propose it to a privately owned company and let them do it. If none of them want to build it maybe it's not really that good of an idea in this economic environment. I'm not saying it will never be a good idea but IMO it's not an idea the city should be in involved in at all and especially at this time.

firefly
0
Points
firefly 02/11/12 - 09:52 am
0
0
A Very Good Decision

I love Soldotna and don't consider us a "small hick town". Anybody that thinks our current visitors center is "just fine" has not been there in a long time. It is too small for the volume of traffic it sees and with the traffic pattern changed several years ago, is extremely unsafe to enter or exit from.

The Mayor/Council is giving the people the power to make the decision and didn't put it to a vote until the property was well below appraisal.

The current price is essentially at the cost of the raw land and adds a significant amount of parking to Soldotna Creek Park.

As the building stands today without improvements, the property more than doubles the size of the current visitor's center in a much safer, more accessible location.

The current Mayor/Council has dramatically reduced the cost of government in Soldotna by 13% in the past three years.

The current Mayor/Council has cut Soldotna's share of property taxes by 30% in the last year for the first time since the 80s. Soldotna is tied with Seward for the lowest mill rate on the Peninsula.

All major projects have been approved by the voters without any funny business; including the library expansion and the cemetery.

For other projects not brought to a vote of the people that are not essential services, the current Mayor/Council has required interested parties to raise private dollars for the projects without any cost to the city, such as the Soldotna Community Playground and the Aspen Dog Park.

This project is a great idea!

capncrunch
0
Points
capncrunch 02/11/12 - 05:09 pm
0
0
I am curious how they came up

I am curious how they came up with the $2.1 million sale price. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assessor's office is required by state law to appraise property at market value, and no less than 95%. They show the appraisal for the .74 acre parcel at $582,500, of which $351,800 is for improvements and $230,700 for the land.

So, is the land being over-valued for sale to the city at 400% its value, or is the Borough Assessor under appraising the property as a favor to David Hutchings? It has to be one or the other.

KRF
9
Points
KRF 02/11/12 - 05:42 pm
0
0
Facts

1. The original asking price was much larger, the council thought it was above fair market price. The 2.1mil price is the lowest asking price to date for that property.

2. The council did not vote to spend any money, the council only voted to let the Soldotna citizens decide if it's a good investment, and good purchase.

3. The council did not agree to pay for any renovations of the property. That will be the responsibility of the potential private agency that will contract with the city.

robert white
378
Points
robert white 02/12/12 - 04:57 am
0
0
special election

Who's idea was it to spend the money for a special election and what will the cost be to the tax payers for this election?..I smell something bad going on behind closed doors!!

KRF
9
Points
KRF 02/12/12 - 10:31 am
0
0
Special Election

Robert have you read the city code? It requires a special election for a purchase price this high. Did you attend any of the several council meetings in the past year where this idea was presented to the council? Did you attend the council meeting where public comment was given to the council before they voted on the resolution? I would suggest going to more meetings, and not relying on your nose as much.

Bird_dog56
0
Points
Bird_dog56 02/12/12 - 11:05 am
0
0
KPB assessed

capncrunch's number sounded low, (s)he was looking at the property next door (Don Jose's) - KPB assessed for this 3.12 acres is $1.44 Million.

jlmh
344
Points
jlmh 02/12/12 - 12:52 pm
0
0
Good point, capncrunch.

Good point, capncrunch. Whether it's assessed at $582,500 or $1.44 million as Bird_dog56 asserts, its value is still under the $2 million threshold. I think it's probably assessed low, as most properties are, regardless of the law. Try finding a property for sale within 5% of its "assessed" value! The market values are always higher.

In this case, that discrepancy really does create a conflict of interest.

rlevy
0
Points
rlevy 02/12/12 - 09:22 pm
0
0
other options

I'm curious whether other options have been considered, or are being included in this proposal. For example, how about widening or changing the entrances and exits to the existing visitor center? Or the cost of enlarging the existing center? Or other cheaper locations or buildings?

Hutchings' location is excellent, but the price seems huge. Is there a Projected Needs type of report to base decisions on?
How do they measure ROI on a project like this, considering operating expenses over 'x" number of years?

Also, the KVC is currently being merged with Kenai Chamber of Commerce, which indicates some sort of monetary or other reason for the change. It would be good to include that analysis as part of this decision, if it is based on Kenai comparisons.

4FIVE4
61
Points
4FIVE4 02/13/12 - 11:30 am
0
0
Not with MY tax money!

Well isn't this nice. A nice little retirement package for Dave Hutchings. I for one, will be voting NO on this issue. 2.1 million is a real nice price, bail him out of his failed dealership, and then he can sell all his assets, retire and then move to Arizona! Scooby Doo for you!! Traffic is just as bad at the current location, as the proposed location-same highway just a few blocks up. Then he'll have another bright idea- you can't have that building without the one across the street for parking and whatnot. Sounds like another 2 mil. How long will it take after people vote no on this, for him to lower the price 100K to make his way around the vote. Since 2 million doesn't need a vote. Please vote, and vote NO on this scam!

justamom
12
Points
justamom 02/13/12 - 01:22 pm
0
0
Conflict of interest???

I would like to know if Shawn Hutchings was allowed to vote on this issue as a Council member? Talk about a conflict of interest! I for one will vote in this special election, and that vote will be NO! The way Hutchings Chevrolet conducted business is why. They cheated me and several of my friends and I'm glad they went out of business. There's no way my tax dollars are going to line their pockets for any amount of money. As far as the VC goes, I think it's fine right where it is. Let the city remodel and/or add on.

corinnep
241
Points
corinnep 02/13/12 - 06:27 pm
0
0
kenaialaskawoman, I believe

kenaialaskawoman, I believe Allen is talking about the visitor's center being turned down by voters several times before it got built, because it was over 1 milion dollars and had to be voted on, and the voters said no. So the city government went around the voters by getting a small grant that lowered the cost of the visitor's center to under a million, then spent like $900,000+ in tax dollars for the project.

I've lived in Kenai for a long time, and I don't remember any convention center vote.

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