Absentee voting under way in Soldotna special election

Soldotna voters asked to ratify plan to move visitors center on May 1 ballot
The voting process will starts today to decide the future of the Soldotna Visitors Center. Absentee voting will start on Monday and the actual vote will take place May 1 to allow the city of Soldotna to purchase the property located at 44075 Sterling Highway for $2.1 million for the purpose of relocating the Soldotna Visitors Center. The city council approved the ordinance to purchase the property during their March 28 meeting, but it must be ratified by the voters since the price is $2.1 million. The property, which sits near the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur Highways, is owned by David and Linda Hutchings, according to a city of Soldotna fact sheet. “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 during the March 28 city council meeting. The proposed building for the move sits on a 3.12-acre site with approximately 17,500 square feet of space on the first floor. The appraised value of the property is $2.8 million, according to a July 18, 2011 appraisal by Black-Smith, Bethard and Carlson, LLC. The current visitors center has 800 square feet of space, Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michelle Glaves said. “We get about 45,000 people in here within a three-month period,” Glaves said. “We have one men’s bathroom and one women’s bathroom, so we rent port-a-potties in the summer time.” During the March 28 meeting, Daniel Lynch told the council he did not think it was a good idea to move the visitors center to the left side of the road, he speculated about 95 percent of the visitors come from the north. “The two lanes that hang a left and go down the (Kenai) Spur Highway, the little turning lane is less than 100-feet where turns into the center lane and the turn into the property,” Lynch told the council. Glaves said that the main entrance and exit will be the ones on the right hand side of the building, closer to Don Jose’s, to give some extra room for vehicles going in and out. If the voters approve the purchase of the property, the city will have until Sept. 15 to conduct due diligence to make sure there are no significant issues. The building will have to be brought up to Building Code Compliance, which means the building will have to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The estimated cost of those renovations range from $360,000 to $570,000, with the chamber providing $250,000 of those costs, according to the city. “We’ve made a pledge to the city that future things that happen, renovations and those things, we are going to be the ones that strive for grants, legislative funding and all those things,” Chamber of Commerce building committee chairman Jim Stogsdill said. If the voters do not approve the purchase of the property, the ordinance will not be ratified which means the city is prohibited from purchasing the property. As this is a Soldotna-only election, absentee voting and the vote on May 1 will take place at Soldotna City Hall. Logan Tuttle can be reached at logan.tuttle@peninsulaclarion.com.