Kenai economic growth targeted

Group suggests 'Millennium Square' development, maintaining quality of

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2004

The results of nearly a year's worth of work on an ambitious economic development plan for the city of Kenai were unveiled Wednesday at the Kenai City Council meeting.

Roy Wells, a member of the Kenai Economic Development Strategy group gave the first of several planned presentations of the group's recommendations for economic growth in the city, which range from ideas about improving education and work force development to finding a use for the city's "Millennium Square" property downtown.

Wells said the KEDS group, made up of 19 community and business leaders from around town, began by examining the city's needs.

"We started looking at some major things that were important to the area," Wells told the council.

Wells said the group formulated a plan including five areas where the city can improve itself with an eye toward growing the economy. Those five areas are education and work force development, infrastructure, business development, tourism and quality of life.

Wells said one of the core ideas stressed by KEDS members is that economic growth should go hand in hand with keeping Kenai an enjoyable place to live.

"A lot of us live in Kenai because we enjoy the quality of life here," he said. "If we sabotaged that, you get a lot less buy in from the community."

One area the group looked closely at is developing and attracting small businesses. Wells said the group found small business is the key to growing the economy from within.

"We knew that the basis for the city of Kenai is small business," he said. "Maybe there's something that can be done there."

The plan developed by the KEDS group offers a variety of recommendations on economic development. Some ideas are things that can be done quickly, while others are more long term in nature, Wells said.

Some of the recommendations the group came up with include enhancing Kenai's arts community, expanding the area's health care facilities, creating a "town center," establishing programs to nurture small businesses, upgrading infrastructure, developing underused property in the city and developing Millennium Square as a focal point of the city.

The committee's recommendations for Millennium Square a large, city-owned parcel that sits on the bluff overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River between the Kenai Senior Citizens Center and Bride Access Road, is likely to generate a lot of discussion from the community.

Wells showed a diagram of what the KEDS group though future development of the square might entail. In the group's rendering, the square includes a hotel, convention center, Native cultural center, commons area surrounded by small shops, picnic areas and walking trails. He said the idea is to turn the area into a focal point not only for business, but for the entire community.

"It has an excellent opportunity to be a town center," Wells said.

He said the property could tie the Kenai Coastal Trail project to the existing Unity Trail between Kenai and Soldotna.

"If you had a bike ride, that would be mile zero. If you had a marathon, that would be mile zero," he said.

Wells said there are a couple hurdles to overcome before the property can be developed. First, he said something needs to be done to ensure erosion won't continue to eat away the bluff.

"We do need dome mitigation on the bluff erosion project," he said.

He also stressed that the group's recommendations for the site are only preliminary, and nothing is cast in stone.

"This is only a vision," he said.

The next step for the KEDS group is to bring the plan before a variety of community groups to solicit feedback from the community. Wells will travel around town to show off the group's findings between now and Feb. 5. At that time, he said the committee will enter its next phase, where a final plan will be formulated.

"We're hoping we can go a step forward and get some things accomplished," he said.

Copies of the report are available to the public by contacting the city of Kenai's VISTA grant employee, Andy Varner, at 283-8240 or sending an e-mail request to avarner@ ci.kenai.ak.us.



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