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City Manager focuses on economic development

Posted: October 15, 2013 - 9:19pm

Business owners, public officer holders and interested Soldotna and borough residents attended the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday at Froso’s restaurant.

Soldotna City Manager Mark Dixson discussed the city’s economy and projects during his State of the City address at the luncheon.

But, before Dixson’s address, Mayor Nels Anderson raised awareness about domestic violence. A recent study showed more than 50 percent of Kenai Peninsula Borough women have been victimized in their lifetime. He said addressing the issue requires community support and proclaimed October domestic violence awareness month.

Dixson then introduced his team of directors for the city departments. They discussed various in-progress projects such as closing the parks for winter, finishing work on the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library for a December opening, developing the Safe Routes to School Program, and Soldotna Municipal Airport construction wrap up, among other projects.

He said the city employees are hard-working and dedicated to their jobs.

“I’ve just got rock stars that work for me,” Dixson said.

One large project that encompasses many projects Dixson has taken on since his hiring is developing the economy of the city.

“We’re still in the beginning stage (of economic development),” he said

Part of the first stage was making changes to the Planning and Zoning department. It is now the Economic Development and Planning Department. The director of the department, Stephanie Queen, has received more training, and a new position has been added to the department.

Dixson said the city is working to set up and develop partnerships with tourism, Kenai Peninsula College, Central Peninsula Hospital, oil and gas companies as well as continue its relationship with the chamber, “so we can all grow together.”

Much of the city’s revenue comes from sales tax, and Dixson said the city should know the impact of the tourist season sales in November.

Even though it’s important to the economy, tourism isn’t something that can be controlled and how people spend money in Soldotna can’t be controlled either, Dixson said.

He spoke about two projects that are in the beginning stages of development and consideration to address not only developing the “shoulder seasons” on either side of summer, but also keeping people in Soldotna.

The first is the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex renovation and expansion project. The city council approved it as the No.1 item on the Capital Improvement Plan for state and federal funding requests at a Sept. 25 meeting.

In a meeting with Nancy Casey of Casey Planning and Design, who headed the master plan for the project, Dixson said they discussed how having a turf field here for kids to play soccer in the winter would not only “level the playing field,” but would also keep families from driving to Anchorage to use turf two to three times a week. Indoor turf at the facility would also draw visitors from throughout the borough to Soldotna to use the sports complex and spend money in town.

The second project that will be focused on next year, Dixson said, is developing a vision for a conference center. He said the sports complex was made the focus this year because the 30-year-old roof needs to be replaced. The city is in the process of purchasing the previous Davis Block and Concrete property that is considered the No. 1 site for a center.

He wants to draw professionals who live in Anchorage to Soldotna where he said housing is less expensive, crime rates are lower, there is less traffic and there are good businesses and health care available.

“This is the place to be,” he said.

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com.

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