Shuttered for the summer?: Kenai Landing owner upset with city operations

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2010

An owner of Kenai Landing said it might not open for business this summer due, in part, to alleged competition for his business from the city of Kenai.

"They're competing with the private sector," said Jon Faulkner, co-owner of Kenai Landing who also operates Land's End in Homer. "The city is actually taking customers from me."

If the multiuse tourist destination and resort does open, he contends that he would have to hire 30 fewer employees. Also, he would do less business than in the past, resulting in a loss of sales tax revenue.

In an open letter to the Kenai City Council delivered last month, Faulkner says the city's boat launch, fish offloading and fueling, camping, and industrial land development are competing with his business on the site of the old Ward's Cove cannery at the mouth of the Kenai River.

State and city building code requirements also seem to be hindering Kenai Landing operation, according to Faulkner. The site has had to close two buildings because they violate city building codes.

In an executive session at its Wednesday meeting, Kenai City Council and administration discussed Kenai Landing and sought advice from city attorney Krista Stearns.

In terms of the boat launch competition, Faulkner said the city's expanded boat launch facility is economically irresponsible.

According to his letter, Kenai Landing built its launch several years ago after the city's ramp already existed. At the time, the city supported the company's plans for the $65,000 boat launch investment. Shortly after, the city decided to expand its own boat launch, which upset Kenai Landing's plans for expansion and forced them to lower launch fees.

"That's barely enough for one launch ramp to be open," Faulkner said, explaining that at the end of dipnetting season there are about 70 launches total for both ramps in one day.

In the past Kenai Landing has shut down its ramp after prime fishing season because it's not economical for them with the city's launch.

"I close and then the city stays open," he said. "They're staying open and losing taxpayers money."

He also claims Kenai Landing attracted Copper River Seafoods to Kenai in 2005 but the next year the city underbid Kenai Landing for fish offloading and fueling from their dock, "effectively taking our customers." After that, other Kenai Landing patrons switched to the city's services.

Faulkner said he would like to see city administration and city council review profit and loss statements for its boat launch and dock for economic feasibility.

Rick Koch, Kenai City Manager, said the city is just providing essential services to constituents with its launch and dock facilities.

"There are times that addressing public services may overlap with private enterprises," he said. "In these cases we're simply responding to an overwhelming public need down in the area."

Faulkner's other grievances enumerated in the letter relate to the city's building code requirements for the historical buildings.

Larry Floyd, Kenai's building official, said that state statute dictates that when a building changes its use or occupancy the design must be done by a professional architect or engineer. Because the 100-year-old cannery and warehouses on Kenai Landing are now used as an event venue, restaurant and marketplace the changes require a design professional's compliance plan, which includes fire suppression and alarm systems.

They've done as much as they can afford, Floyd said, but "their inability to afford something does not negate building codes for life safety issues."

"We worked with them as much as we feel that we can," he said. "We've kind of reached the point where we can't allow them to continue and they can't afford to make it any better."

After the city council executive session, the council directed the city manager and city attorney to continue to monitor and work on the issues at Kenai Landing.

Other Council action:

* Unanimously approved a more than $4 million contract to Blazy Construction for the Kenai Community Library expansion project.

* Approved a cooperative agreement with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for Kenai River personal use fishery North Shore fishery support improvements.

* Discussed feasibility and liability issues with the bird-hazing project (a dog) at Kenai Airport.

* Discussed enforcement actions for certain city code violations, like junk cars and litter, and collection of civil penalties for these violations.

* Held executive session to discuss a potential land sale with TransCanada and a lease dispute with Ma & Pa Alaskan Treasures.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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