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Visitor center move would benefit Soldotna

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: April 24, 2012 - 8:30am

Soldotna is a beautiful, vital, and vibrant community with a firm grasp on its heritage, while still embracing growth. The people of Soldotna have remained intimately involved in, and have remained dedicated to the continuous improvement of an already incredible community. Now, there is a unique opportunity facing the citizens of Soldotna.

The question before the voters is: "Shall the City of Soldotna Purchase Property Located at 44075 Sterling Highway for $2,100,000 for the Purpose of Relocating the Soldotna Visitors Center?"

[A "Yes" vote permits, but does not obligate, the city to purchase the property.]

According to the Earnest Money Agreement "If the purchase is approved by the voters, the City will have until September 15, 2012 to conduct inspections of the property. If material defects, such as contamination are found or if renovation costs are more than the City wants to undertake, the City can terminate this agreement without loss of the $10,000 earnest money. The City is not obligated to complete the purchase even if the ordinance is ratified by the voters."

[A "No" vote prohibits the purchase of the property.]

Here is why we believe a "Yes" vote is appropriate.

Let's start with the Envision 2030 plan. This is the plan that the community of Soldotna has put together as "a tool for guiding the future growth and development of the City of Soldotna." Many, many community members gave input and came up with this extraordinary comprehensive plan so that the City has a guide for investing in future infrastructure. The current initiative before the voters is very much in line with the Envision 2030 plan, as it would promote year-round tourism and economic development, market the Kenai River, and develop more of a "downtown" or city center feel. It also gives the opportunity for a convention center that would support local businesses, while giving access to the Kenai River, provide more promotion of arts and culture and develop recreation opportunities for residents and visitors alike.

This plan also details the role that the Sterling and Kenai Spur Highway corridors play in the first impression of Soldotna. The property is near the juncture of both these highways and offers a perfect opportunity to re-vamp the face of Soldotna and give a better overall first impression.

There are no doubt questions about this proposition, and we want to answer some we have heard.

Why do this at all?

The McDowell Group prepared a feasibility and sustainability study for an enlarged visitor center and a future convention center. The study clearly shows the need for such a facility, the local desire and support for a facility and the economic development aspect this project could generate.

Why this property?

Location. Size. Connectivity. This property is connected to one of Soldotna's fastest growing recreation areas. This property would be an extension of Soldotna Creek Park and create a focal point and city center for all seasons. This property would add parking for festivals and park activities; add much needed alternative access to the Kenai Watershed Forum, supporting infrastructure to the new community playground, and the future renovated park with a pavilion, memorials, fish walkway and much more.

Why not expand the current location?

There are numerous obstacles in enlarging the current visitor center. Additional costs due to an underground spring near the front of the building. The access in and out of the building is difficult and dangerous. When the building was originally built access was adequate, but the expansion of the highway, the median and the turn lanes, has made access difficult.

What will the costs be?

The city has completed a preliminary look at what the costs would be to bring the site up to ADA standards. However, unless the people of Soldotna agree to this project, there is no need to spend monies for drawings, assessments and the like. Also, the Soldotna Chamber has committed to $250,000 dollars toward renovations up front, and raise additional monies through a capital campaign and grant applications to continue renovations on the project.

Will my taxes go up?

NO. The money to purchase the property will not come from bonds or repayments and taxes will not go up. The funds will come from the city's reserve fund. Future expansion costs will be obtained by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

Why would the city remove a piece of property off the tax rolls?
The city receives less than $3,000 per year in property tax from the proposed property.

What would happen to the current visitor center?

Resolution 2012-003 states the existing visitor center, recently appraised at $1.2 million, will be offered for sale and returned to the tax roles to offset the cost of the purchase. The fish walkway will remain open to public access through easements.

Won't there be inherent traffic issues at this sight as well?

It is difficult to explain just in writing how the traffic flow would work, so we invite you to stop into the Visitor's Center to look at maps and discuss the project or you can call us at 262-9814.

The City Engineer said it best in the Preliminary Building Report to City Council:

"It should be noted that the site in question is ideal for the intended purpose and will provide generations of benefit to the residents of the city of Soldotna. Providing a Visitor's Center linked with the Soldotna Creek Park and with Kenai River access will be both profitable and enjoyable for the city residents and visitors alike. This is a unique opportunity that if missed might never be available again."

Don't wait for May 1, you can vote now! Vote YES.

This piece was submitted by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

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