The city of Soldotna is not wasting any time acting on two studies made over the last year, and the city council is prepared to vote on putting a $5 million dollar bond question on October's ballot.
The city has decided, based on studies for expansion of the Soldotna Sports Center area and its economic development forums held in March, that the city needs a new event and conference center.
A general obligation bond in the amount of $5 million will be put before voters, though construction estimates are between $5.6 and $6 million for a new facility on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
The council approved $56,950 for schematic designs in January and hired Bill Kluge to draw them up. He presented them to the council last month.
Capable of hosting 500 people, the new center will be a stand-alone structure located to the west of the Sports Center.
The roughly 20,000-square-foot design features soaring skylights in the shape of sails above the lobby and exhibition area, three small conference rooms that can be opened up into one or two, and two large event halls that also can be combined into one. It also will have a large professional kitchen to serve banquets.
Plans to add on to the sports center's east side were scrapped in favor of a stand-alone facility.
The city plans on paying off the bond with property and sales tax revenue. Like the sports center, it is not anticipated to be a money-maker, but rather attract more visitors from out of town, who will spend their money in local restaurants, hotels and stores.
Soldotna's philosophy is opposite that of the city of Kenai's, which is trying to woo developers into building a center there.
At Wednesday night's meeting, the bond issue was introduced by the Soldotna City Council. It will be up for a public hearing and a vote at the Aug. 22. meeting. If the council passes it, Soldotna voters will give it the thumbs up or thumbs down On Oct. 2, during the municipal election. Mayor David Carey has announced plans for a public forum sometime in mid-September to answer the public's questions on the center and the bond.
In other news from the council:
n City Clerk Pat Burdick said she was amazed that only a week after the filing period opened, she had candidates for all three open council seats up for election this fall. Only one of three incumbents is seeking re-election, that being Jane Stein. Steve Horn announced late last month he will not run again, citing work commitments, and on Wednesday, through a memo to Burdick, Mike Tarr said he has bought property outside city limits and did not expect to be living inside the city by this time next year.
Two former council members, though, are seeking to rejoin the council. Roger Labor has filed for Horn's Seat E, and Sharon Moock has filed for Tarr's Seat C.
The filing deadline for council openings is Wednesday afternoon.
n City Manager Tom Boedeker informed the council that the Kenai Peninsula Borough is looking at new options for the borough's Planning and Zoning Commission, which could jeopardize the city's seat on the body.
"If the commission stays at 11 seats, one of the five cities in the borough will lose a seat," Boedeker said. "I suspect it could be Seldovia. But there's no guarantee it won't be Soldotna, Kenai or Seward."
He said if the commission is expanded to 13 seats, all five incorporated cities will keep their seats on it. The council voted unanimously to have Boedeker write a letter to the borough in support of the 13-seat option.
n Boedeker also related a letter of complaint he received regarding the old Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities property downtown. He said the letter accused the city of subverting the public process by developing the land into a park.
"She complained that we turned it into another fisherman's park," he said.
Though the park closes around midnight, its location next to Soldotna Creek Park and the Kenai River has prompted many fishers to try and camp out overnight there.
The city does not yet have title to the land, though it is in the process of acquiring it through a three-way land swap with the borough and the state. The state received borough land near Skyview High School for a new DOT maintenance station, and the borough received the land the new Kenai River Center is on. The holdup is contamination on the downtown DOT property that is still being monitored. The city does not expect to accept the land for several more years.
"We don't have title, but we can't just let it sit there for three years," Boedeker said. "So we put in grass and paths just to hold it in place until long-term plans can be made. (What's there now) is not cast in stone."
n Stein said DOT needs to provide fair and equitable right-of-way boundaries through town on the Sterling Highway. The department began notifying business owners whose signs along the mile stretch were inside the highway's right of way that they needed to tear them down or the state will do it for them. Stein called for a meeting with department representatives.
The next regular Soldotna City Council meeting will be on Aug. 22.
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