Plans for cannery preserve past, turn page into new era

Posted: Sunday, October 26, 2003

The vision of two business partners to convert Kenai's historic Wards Cove cannery into a multi-use destination resort is on the verge of becoming a dream come true for many in Kenai.

For years, there's been talk about how Kenai should capitalize on its history, about how the city needs a place to market its artists and their works, about how the community needs a performance theater, about how there needs to be more for young people to do in the city, about how there's more to Kenai than just fish.

Steve Agni and Jon Faulkner incorporate parts of those ideas and more into their plans for the cannery, which are almost breathtaking in their scope.

It would be easy to think the two might be unrealistic dreamers, except for the fact that they have a history of success in Alaska. Among their endeavors are the Land's End Resort in Homer and the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward.

Their plans for the old cannery, which include 35 buildings on 50 acres, are all the more exciting because they want the modern-day project to connect residents and visitors with the historical significance of the site. In its heyday, Wards Cove operated much like a small town, and Agni and Faulkner believe recreating that town is central to their project. Fish processing will continue at the site, although not at the capacity it once did. As work is done to rejuvenate the site, it will be done with an eye toward preserving its historic appeal. The developers hope to establish a museum area and look into getting some of the places included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Tentatively named Kenai Landing, the project will open up use of the old cannery's dock facilities. There are plans to install floating docks and a boat launch ramp. Guided sportfishing, a water taxi operation, outdoor-based youth camps, an RV park, hotel rooms and a brew-pub restaurant are among the ideas on the drawing board.

There's a lot of work to do. The sale of the site is due to close on or before Feb. 13. Certainly, it will take lots of community support for Agni and Faulkner's vision to become reality. As presented to the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission last week, it's a project deserving of support.

Since its closure in 1999, the cannery has sat virtually abandoned like too many other buildings in Kenai. The site, however, has too much historical significance to decay into oblivion or become another reminder of what Kenai once was instead of what it can be.

Kenai Landing holds the potential not only to preserve an important piece of Kenai's history but to herald a new era in the city's development.

We wish Agni and Faulkner all the best.

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