Retractable roof in Kenai? When pigs fly

Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2003

As I sit in the dull, wood-paneled office here at the Clarion thinking of the rained-out baseball game I should be covering, I can't help but come to an intractable decision.

We need a stadium with a retractable roof in Kenai.

Now, I know one day of rained-out games seems like a poor argument for a major, multimillion-dollar project. But remember, this is a country where our leaders are putting forth the existence of two trucks that may have been used to manufacture chemical and biological weapons as justification for war.

If two trucks justifies a war, a rainout justifies a ballpark with a retractable roof.

Naturally, the first question is, "Where is all the money to come from?"

In Alaska, that's an easy one. For starters, there's the $26 billion the state has in the Alaska Permanent Fund.

I know that people have hesitated to crack into the fund in the past when it would have meant things like brand-new textbooks for students, less-crowded classrooms and plenty of money to buy items like football helmets without fund-raising.

But my thinking is when people hear a billion-dollar account is being cracked into, they don't want little items like textbooks and helmets to show in return.

They want big expenditures with questionable usefulness. Making the tunnel to Whittier accessible to vehicle traffic comes to mind. So does a retractable-roofed park in Kenai.

And can we even question the usefulness of such a park?

For starters, we've recently seen how many problems can result from a few area residents getting water splashed on them.

Then there's the fact that the Oilers are competing with a multitude of outdoor activities in the summer. What if people, when sitting at home cursing the rain for ruining hiking and fishing, could instead go to the ballpark?

Finally, if we're not going to fully fund the university system in the state, a retractable stadium in Kenai will at least assure that we have the best college students here in Kenai for a brief time in the summer -- even if what they're best at is "only" baseball.

Besides, the park wouldn't cost as much as it looks like on the surface. For starters, there's naming rights.

Some might think Tesoro or ConocoPhillips would be a logical choice, but I'd like to see the new place called Dick Metteer Nutrient Park.

Metteer is a Soldotna man who believes the peninsula could support a large-scale pig farm that would ship its product to Asia.

The interests of Metteer and the Oilers dovetail nicely. The Oilers could provide Metteer with land for the pigs, Metteer could provide the Oilers with money for the park and fertilizer to make grass grow in the tough conditions inside a retractable-roof stadium.

And if pigs can't make grass grow inside, law enforcement officials can. Surely they have stumbled across a lot of hydroponic systems in Alaska over the years that make such growth a snap.

The final benefit of Metteer's involvement would be to insulate the Oilers from a Cubs-type curse. In 1945, tavern owner William Sianis was told by the Cubs he couldn't bring his goat to a World Series game at Wrigley Field. Sianis placed a hex on the Cubs, saying they would never win a World Series again.

The same could never be said of Dick Metteer, the Oilers and pigs.

Another big money saver would be the engineering of the project. It'd be nice to have some fancy architecture like Toronto's SkyDome or Milwaukee's Miller Park. But would such architecture fit in here?

Nope, Kenai's retractable-roof park will be an Alaska special with the brightest minds from Kasilof to Sterling to Nikiski figuring out how to make a retractable roof out of blue poly tarps and duct tape.

I know people still may be a little concerned about sticking their necks out on such a high-dollar project. But if the naming rights, Alaska-ingenuity engineering and the permanent fund don't fully fund the park, I promise it won't mean any new taxes for the people of Kenai. Some user fees, maybe. But no new taxes.

Still not convinced? Here's one final persuader we can all agree on. If we get a retractable roof here in Kenai, you'll never have to read me trying to fill up the Clarion sports page the day after a rainout again.

This column is the opinion of Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak. Comments and criticisms can be directed to clarion@alaska.net.



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