After agreeing to set aside money seven months ago, the Soldotna City Council moved swiftly Wednesday night to OK the purchase of land next to the city’s visitors center.
For $400,000, the city is buying approximately 1 1/2 acres around the existing visitors center from the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, which also has its offices in the building.
The chamber bought the land last year to prevent it from being purchased by an outside private party.
The chamber’s plan at the time was to have the city purchase the land from the business group, which would in turn apply the money toward building a new, larger visitors center that would be owned by the city.
“This is the first step,” said Michelle Glaves, chamber executive director, on Thursday.
“Next we’ll have group meetings with the chamber executive board, the city and the public to be sure we know what ideas everyone has for the new (visitors) center,” Glaves said.
“Then, we’ll take the ideas to an architect,” she said.
In April, the city transferred the $400,000 from its sales tax capital fund to the general fund, making way for the purchase approved Wednesday.
By previous agreement, the chamber of commerce has its offices in the building in exchange for operating the city’s visitors center.
The same arrangement is anticipated for a new, expanded visitors center.
Glaves said no decision has been made yet as to whether the existing building will be enlarged or whether a new, freestanding building will be built on the site.
One shortcoming a larger visitors center would address is public restroom facilities.
The current building has one single-stall men’s room and one single-stall women’s room. During the busy summer months, the chamber of commerce rents portable outhouses and places them in the parking lot for tourists to use.
A new visitors center would include larger restroom facilities to accommodate tour bus passengers, according to a chamber of commerce plan sent to the city.
A larger center also would allow for the display of more city artifacts and photos, currently kept in storage due to lack of space. Another expressed need is for a small kitchen facility to be used during social gatherings in the building. The existing building does not have a kitchen.
Although no definitive plan has yet been submitted, options include expanding the existing building or building a new, larger visitor center and remodeling the existing building as an office building for the chamber.
Glaves said the chamber board’s next meeting is today and the first combined meeting for the public, the city and the chamber will be scheduled next month.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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