The Kenai Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously recommended a plan Thursday to add a permanent lobby and spectator area to the Kenai Multiuse Facility in anticipation of the Arctic Winter Games.
The commission's recommendation is the first step toward making upgrades needed at the facility in time for the 2006 games. The plan will go before the Kenai City Council later this month, where the council will decide whether it wants to sign off on the recommendation.
The estimated $1.7 million facility upgrade -- which would add a lobby and seating area, but not enclose the building itself -- is not the only option available to the council. In addition to recommending the permanent lobby and seating addition, the commission also forwarded a list of three other options for the the council to consider in descending order of cost and amenities offered.
Those three options include cheaper and less ambitious plans than the preferred option, including the installation of temporary seating, radiant heat and security cameras. The least expensive option would cost an estimated $39,500 and would include only the addition of temporary bleachers.
The upgrades are needed because it's anticipated that the rink will be used for preliminary hockey competitions at the games, and seating and concession areas are essential for the competition.
Commission members said they feel like the addition of a permanent seating and lobby area is a good option that needs to be explored, but only if the city is able to cover the additional operating costs, estimated between $2,000 and $4,000 per month.
"Is the city prepared to pay out three or four thousand (per month) if this thing goes through?" asked commission chair Dick Hultburg.
Kenai Mayor John Williams, who attended the meeting, said the city will have to look at ways to increase revenue at the facility to make up for the additional operating costs, including the possibility of raising ice fees, adding concessions, holding hockey tournaments and renting building space.
"Those are all things the administration has to work on," Williams said.
Commission members all voiced the opinion that whatever the city does with the facility, ice time costs should not increase significantly over the current $105 per hour the city currently charges.
"It needs to be an affordable facility," said commission member Jack Castimore.
For that reason, the commission rejected an option to fully enclose the facility, saying operational costs would be far too high, and fully enclosing the rink would not be in line with the original vision of the facility.
Committee member Dale Sandahl pointed out that Soldotna has an enclosed facility -- the Soldotna Sports Center -- that charges significantly more than Kenai for ice time and still loses money.
"I don't want to develop for the city what Soldotna had developed for their city because that thing has driven them into the ground," Sandahl said.
Commission members also noted that enclosing the rink was never part of the plan. The plan to build a lobby and seating would not conflict with the original vision for the facility, because the rink would still be able to remain open 24 hours a day.
The commission's recommendation is far from the final step toward making changes at the facility. If the council also decides on the addition, a funding source must then be identified.
Currently, the city is looking to the federal government to finance the project through the Arctic Winter Games. Because of the way the recommendation is worded, if funding is not found for the permanent lobby and seating area, the city could still go ahead with the less ambitious options.
Arctic Winter Games General Manager Loren Smith attended Thursday's meeting. He said that whatever option the city decides on would be supported by the games during its lobbying efforts before Congress.
"Whatever you decide to go with, we will help try to get that money," Smith said.
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