Council moves Visitor Center decision to voters

The Soldotna City Council approved at its Wednesday meeting an ordinance and resolution authorizing the city to purchase property at 44075 Sterling Highway for $2.1 million, as long as Soldotna voters approve during a May 1 vote.

The ordinance authorized the $2.1 million purchase, but it is subject to voter ratification. The ordinance had to be approved by April so the vote can take place. Residents will decide whether the city will purchase the former Hutchings Auto Group building, which sits at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur Highways, for the relocation of the Soldotna Visitor Center.  

“The vote will not obligate the city to purchase the property, it will permit the city to purchase the property,” Soldotna city engineer Kyle Kornelis said. 

Although the new building would provide more space, there are some residents who think moving the visitors center will not solve any of the current issues.

Daniel Lynch spoke against the move, and told the council he did not think it was a good idea to move the visitors center to the left side of the road, as he speculated about 95 percent of the visitors come from the north.

“The two lanes that hang a left to go down the (Kenai) Spur Highway, the little turning lane, there’s less than 100-feet where it turns into the center lane and the turn into the property,” Lynch said to the council.

Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche said Lynch made good points and the city is examining both sides of the issue.

“We’re going to let the people decide if this is the right project,” Micciche told Lynch.

Lynch also suggested the possibility of acquiring different property that would be more accessible from the highway.

“If we are going to spend a lot of money like that, there’s a whole lot of property from Big Johns Road to this way, where visitors can pull off and come back in,” Lynch said.

Micciche mentioned the traffic light that is planned to go in at Birch Street next year as a way for traffic to run smoothly in the area.

“There are improvements coming that will make the entire stretch more usable on either side of the road,” he said.

The resolution passed by the council pertained to the earnest money agreement. The city agreed to put in $10,000 of earnest money and contains contingency provisions which allows the city to terminate the agreement without forfeiture of the money.

“The earnest money agreement has provisions for backing out of the deal for environmental reasons, for hazardous substances, for non-voter approval and for identifying the improvements necessary for us to occupy and use the facility for our intent — which is a visitors center,” Kornelis explained. “If we deem those costs too burdensome, them we can also back out of the agreement.”

If the voters approve the purchase, the estimated cost to get the building up to code is $300,000 to $500,000. Micciche said the chamber will provide $250,000, which means the city could decide to pay the balance, which could range from $50,000 to $250,000.

“All we’re doing is providing the (Americans with Disabilities Act) life safety, to make it occupancy-legal,” Micciche explained. “When (the chamber) moves into that, we are not providing any costs that have to do with future renovations of the site.”

Some of the improvements to get the building to code would include ADA accessibility ramps, ADA restrooms, fire separation and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Micciche said the city is planning on releasing an information packet a couple of weeks before the May 1 vote.

“Our primary responsibility is to not make a recommendation to the voters,” Micciche said. “But give them all of the factual information they need to make an informed decision. 

“If the voters of Soldotna do not approve this project, the project will go away.”

 

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