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Events center faces voters

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Voters in the city of Soldotna will be faced with a choice to give a proposed events center the green light or red light Oct. 2.

A bond authorization vote will appear on the ballot inside city limits. It would authorize the city to float $3.5 million in bonds to partially fund an events center. But the proposition is getting lost in the shuffle as the proposed private prison proposition, which will appear on ballots boroughwide, grabs all the attention.

"I'm hearing very little about this," said Soldotna Mayor David Carey. "The prison is so overwhelming everything right now."

He said he has received Alaska Public Offices Commission permission to mail a "get out the vote" flyer to city residents. He said the flyer, due to hit mailboxes this weekend, will be neutral on the events center bond.

"I feel very good about people in this community being educated on this issue, but people aren't talking about it," he said. "I don't see it as a burning thing."

He said the only debate he's seen is that between council member Jane Stein and the man challenging her in the election, Fred Sturman.

"They have taken absolutely opposite sides on the issue," Carey said. "Mrs. Stein is absolutely for it and Mr. Sturman is absolutely against it."

The events center grew out of several public meetings the city has had over the past year, discussing expansion of the Soldotna Sports Center area, and at the economic development forums held in March.

Plans to add on to the sports center's east side were scrapped in favor of a standalone facility.

The council approved $56,950 for schematic designs and hired Kenai architect Bill Kluge to draw them up. He presented them to the council in July.

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.

Carey's vision is 500 or nothing, he said.

"We will not move down from 500 to say, 350 seats. You don't save that much money," he said. "We would not scale it down."

He said depending on the vote, he would not bring the issue back up next year, despite the lack of interest the bond is generating.

"If it's a clear 'no,' we will respect what the people say," Carey said. "We will not come back and say 'here's an events center for $6.1 million.'"

Carey is careful to point out that even if the vote goes yes, the city will not sell the bonds until more money can be acquired from other sources to meet the $7 million price tag.

He said the city will approach other governments, the petrochemical industry, Native associations, the hospitality and fishing industries.

"We will certainly talk to the borough and the state," he said. "There are a number of different grant possibilities out there, a lot of matching programs."

He said it is vital to have a bond in hand, ready to sell, to attract matching grants.

"I see a wide range of funding possibilities, but we have to get a positive vote first to see if people want it," Carey said.

He added that the public should not be worried about the city fast-tracking the process.

"Assuming a 'yes' vote, it will be a year minimum before we can take the next step and say we can do it," he said. "It will take time and a commitment from people."

The bonds will not be sold until additional money is found.

There will be a public meeting workshop from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night, just prior to that night's city council meeting.

"We want to know what people think," Carey said. "We are very interested in people's input."

He, Kluge and Parks and Recreation Department Director Andrew Carmichael will be on hand to answer any questions citizens might have.



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