If the construction crews working at the old Kenai Ward's Cove cannery which is being transformed into a resort known as Kenai Landing were cosmetic surgeons, they would have some unhappy customers on their hands.
Though work has begun at the sprawling 35-building, 90-plus-year-old facility on the mouth of the Kenai River, it has done little to change the outward appearance of the site. There's been no face-lifts, no modernizing, no redesigning done to even the oldest buildings.
Of course, the construction crews are not supposed to act like plastic surgeons, since changing the appearance of the historic cannery is the last thing its new developers want to do.
They do want facilities at the site to be in compliance with modern codes and able to handle the many types of visitors, activities and commerce they hope to attract, but they want to do it in a way that preserves the original look and feel of the site that has been a part of Kenai's history for nearly a century.
According to Jon Faulkner, a developer behind Kenai Landing, work is under way to ready Kenai Landing for its planned early summer opening. Con-tractors have cleaned out and added stairs to a large warehouse building along the main promenade that will be transformed into an indoor marketplace. Buildings slated for different styles of lodging have received plumbing work and soon will get wiring and Sheetrock attention. A building that will become a German-style brew-pub is awaiting wiring work, as well.
So far, work is progressing with minor hitches, Faulkner said.
Jon Faulkner gestures toward the Kenai River as he talks about the different businesses expected to anchor Kenai Landing.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"The restaurant is giving us some trouble, only because the weather is not cooperating," he said in an interview last week. "It's supposed to be 40 degrees and it's been 10 degrees."
Despite the difficulty posed by needing to do foundation work in below-freezing weather, renovations to the structure are moving ahead.
"The restaurant is coming along beautifully," Faulkner said. "We're building it for another 100 years. The first 100 have performed wonderfully, but we're building for the next hundred."
Other buildings are receiving some minor attention and being moved to new locations on the site, while still others are being moved off-site completely after being sold.
Buildings aren't the only things up for sale at Kenai Landing. There's all manner of cannery-related gadgets, gizmos and other items being offered to bargain and history seekers at weekly Saturday garage sales.
"Any treasure hunters out there can come by and haul away all kinds of cool stuff for giveaway prices," Faulkner said.
Once warmer spring weather sets in and the winter's ice is flushed from the river, work will begin on the load and launch dock. Faulkner said he's cleared the permitting hurdles regarding the project, but an archaeological assessment of the area still must be done before construction can begin.
As part of Faulkner's interest in promoting and preserving the historic aspect of Kenai Landing, he would like to have an archaeological survey done of the entire facility to document its 90-plus years of existence.
The city of Kenai already has bestowed historic status on about five buildings at the site and Faulkner plans to apply to have Kenai Landing added to the National Register of Historic Places once the substantial amount of documentation required for that application is completed in a year or so.
Plans for obtaining historic designations for Kenai Landing is a main reason why the renovations that are taking place at the site are designed to change the character of the buildings as little as possible.
That character alone will be a main attraction of the resort, said Marty Hapeman, president of the Kenai River Council of the Arts and exhibitions coordinator with the Peninsula Arts Guild.
"The first time I went down there I got inspired by it," she said. " ... The buildings are old and there's big beautiful wood beams it's just a very authentic place. Most artists I know around here also have a connection with fishing so it's kind of a double interest.
"I'd love to see it retain its character and honor its fishing history, and I think that's where Jon Faulkner's at on this."
Other planned attractions at the site include charter fishing, small-scale fish processing, vendor shops similar in concept to Pike Place Market in Seattle, youth camps, a theater, live music, horse riding and a climbing wall.
The arts groups Hapeman represents are discussing the opportunities for gallery and studio space available at the site. The Kenai River Council on the Arts has signed a letter of intent to lease a portion of the large warehouse building and members of the Peninsula Arts Guild are considering leasing space as well, Hapeman said.
Additional renovations would be required to make the facilities ready to be occupied year-round and accessible to the public, so both groups are weighing how much money they would be able to afford to spend on such a project.
Hapeman said she hopes the area arts community will have a presence at Kenai Landing.
"They're huge buildings," she said. "There's so much footage in that at place it's amazing. There's room for every arts group on the peninsula to find a home there, honestly. It's really at a point where there's this huge potential, it's just a matter of organizing and being dedicated."
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