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Soldotna voters nix visitor center purchase

Posted: May 1, 2012 - 8:20pm  |  Updated: May 2, 2012 - 8:33am
M. Scott Moon
Daniel Lynch stands alongside the Sterling Highway in Soldotna to encourage city residents there to vote Tuesday afternoon. Lynch said he was strongly opposed to the proposed purchase but wanted to get people to vote regardless. “As long as people vote — that’s the American way,” he said.

Soldotna voters rejected a city ballot measure seeking the go-ahead to purchase the Hutchings Auto Group Building for the purpose of relocating Soldotna Visitor Center during a special election held Tuesday, with 60.8 percent of the voters checking no.

Gloria Wisecarver said Tuesday during the vote that she did not think it was a good idea to move the visitor center.

"I don't think it's the right location," Wisecarver, 81, said. "It seems like it would just be a bottleneck there at that corner."

Wisecarver was among the majority Tuesday -- the results of the special election showed 60.8 percent, or 358 votes against the measure, while 231 people, or 39.2 percent of voters were in favor of the measure. The results will not be official until next Monday, when all of the absentee votes will be counted. As of Monday, there were about 77 absentee ballots, but that number was expected to rise, Soldotna City Clerk Teresa Fahning said.
Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michelle Glaves said the residents of Soldotna showed they did not agree with the chamber's proposed move.

"Obviously the Chamber Board thought that this was a great project and would be a great asset for the people of Soldotna," Glaves said after the results were posted. "But the voters spoke otherwise."

The Soldotna City Council passed an ordinance during their March 28 meeting calling for a special election to determine whether the city could move forward in the process to purchase the former Hutchings Auto Group building for the relocation of the Soldotna Visitor Center. The purchase needed to be ratified by voters per the Soldotna Municipal Code because the purchase price is over $2 million. The Hutchings Auto Group building near the "Y" intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways and comes with a price tag of $2.1 million.

Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche said it was important for the residents to voice their opinion on the purchase.

"We place all major projects on the ballot and let the voters decide and respect their wishes," Micciche said. "As stated in the ordinance, the prevailing no vote has determined the facility will absolutely not be purchased by the city."

The Hutchings Building sits on a 3.12-acre site with approximately 17,500 square feet of space on the first floor, according to a city of Soldotna fact sheet.

The current visitor center has about 800 feet of space, Glaves said in an April interview.

"We get about 45,000 people in here within a three-month period," she said.

Soldotna resident George Stein said that having the visitor center on the main stretch of highway would be good for the city.

"I think it's a good location, it provides easier access for visitors as well as local people," Stein said. "I'm hoping that it will make that area of town a little more aesthetic."

Soldotna business owner Norm Blakeley said he thought voters weren't getting the whole story, and that's what may have led to the measure failing.

"The city's talking about a visitors center and the (Soldotna Chamber of Commerce) is talking about a convention center," Blakeley said.

Greta Boone thought the money set aside for the purchase should go to the city's properties already in place.

"We have a sports center that is not utilized to its full capacity," she said. "They have conference rooms, they have a lot of amenities that are not being used and we're paying for it."

Tasha Crouse said that the city should look into relocating the facility because of the location and the accessibility would be beneficial -- and that in the future, the center could host trade shows and be able to cater to the Peninsula instead of having to travel to Anchorage.

"It's close to (Soldotna Creek Park), and in the future it would allow us I think to bring some more commerce to the town," she said.

Glaves said the process to find a new space for the visitors center will continue.

Logan Tuttle can be reached at

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Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 05/02/12 - 10:00 am
YEA! Good job No voters.

YEA!! Good Job No voters.
I also think that people didn't understand the issue of moving the visitor center from the SouthWest side to the NorthEast side of town. There would have been exactly the Very Same bottleneck of traffic, even worse and those that voted Yes seem to not understand what the real issue is here.
I would like to ask this question about the comment of 45,000 visitors that come thru Soldotna during that 3 month stretch as it seems to imply that all 45,000 of them stop at the visitor center and i can't believe thats the case at all nor an important fact.
As i said before it would not have reduced the congestion at all from the present location, and with only 4 main roads to choose from in Slooowdotna when approaching from either direction, thats 2 to the left & two to the right off the Seward Highway i'm sure people can't get lost. Funny River road, K Beach, Spur road and East Redoubt are the only 4 choices and not a problem for many if any.

I think that the Sports Center would actually be the VERY BEST place for the visitors center as it already has all the parking and plenty of room and is already used for conventions like the sports show this weekend. All that would have to be done to help congestion there is to install a light used during those peek time frames or conventions.

Jeremiah 6:17

Offcenter 05/02/12 - 12:36 pm
Needed more time for discussion/clarification

First off, the current visitor's center is a joke, it is so tiny.

For the sports center to be "more utilized," the management over there needs to be shook up and it needs to be run like a business rather than someone's personal hobby. Even something simple like open skate is a gamble, "are they going to be open today or not?" and no way to know until you get there.

The Hutchings site would have expanded the usefulness of the park as well. Traffic flow would need to be considered, but more people staying in Soldotna (rather than simply going through) and doing something other than fishing would be GOOD thing.

justamom 05/02/12 - 03:23 pm
Very Happy

I'm so glad the "NO" voters showed up yesterday, and for so many reasons. The main reason I voted no is because the ads were lying to the Soldotna residents about the tax issue. They said it wouldn't effect our tax base because they have the money in reserve. Well how do you think they got that reserve? From taxes! Come on city, we aren't stupid and you can't push an unwanted visitor center down our thoats. And why would you pay that much for non river property? So many things didn't make sense and that's why so many people voted no.

robert white
robert white 05/03/12 - 09:12 am
Visitor's center

Do we really need one? Bet 95% of the people who come here in june and july don't even visit the center!

soldotna 05/06/12 - 05:28 pm
I've got an idea

I was looking at this "issue" Soldotna already has more police per person then 99% of any place in the US. So why not do this" Have the city of Soldotna give the state of Alaska 2 million a year to hire extra troopers and then get rid of the city police altogether. Just use state troopers for everything all law enforcing I mean they show up at everything anyways. By doing this then we have a great building on the correct side of the road in the middle of town with a small park in front of it that ends up vacant. Hey guess what the city already owns this building so they would not be spending money on something new. The City would save a ton of money by getting rid of city police and they could move the visitors center into this place that is almost made perfectly for such a thing.

Now you maybe feel like I am being sarcastic but in all honestly I am not at all it makes a ton of scene if we really need a new visitors center.

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