Sports center could expand

Soldotna council gives thumbs up for plan's next step

Posted: Monday, December 18, 2000

A vast development plan for the area around the Soldotna Sports Center was presented to the Soldotna City Council.

Price tags ranged up to $30 million for various portions of the plan, which included a $3 million expansion of the sports center to construction of a 120,000-square-foot field house with a football field, track and performing arts center.

The conceptual plan has many options, not all of which would necessarily be built at the same time. It also includes additional softball and Little League fields. The plan was developed partially from a Sept. 7 public meeting to solicit public input.

"This is a prime piece of real estate," Ray Adamson of Raven Contractors said of the 200-plus acres of land the city owns in the area. "If it were on the market, people would beat your door down.

"But the city can have its cake and eat it too, by creating an ongoing benefit to the city," he added. "This project would have a tremendous impact in increasing sales tax revenue."

In his study, which the city paid Raven $26,000 to do, Adamson described the sports center and any future expansion as a "loss leader," which may cost the city money to build and maintain but would more than make up for it in increased visitation and sales in the city.

"Anybody visiting from anywhere, be it Sheboygan or Anchorage, tends to spend money for food, fuel, lodging, recreation and incidentals while they are attending a sports event," he said.

He said what it costs the city to partially subsidize the sports center should not be thought of as a gift. Rather, he said, it should be looked upon as returning a portion of the sales tax revenue the center generates. The same would hold true for any future expansion of the facility or new venues.

Adamson described the sports center as inadequate to meet the broad spectrum of events it is called upon to host. He said the conference room looks and sounds "institutional" with its cement block walls; the kitchen is too small to be used for anything more than warming food; bathrooms must be shared by conferees; and ice skaters and everybody else must share the same entrance.

He described that as "an incongruous mix of sports-clad participants ... using the facilities alongside formally-clad conference attendees."

His plan for expansion of the center includes doubling the size of the conference rooms with the addition of two more interconnected rooms and a 2,640-square-foot, glass-walled lobby.

The plan also doubles the size of the kitchen and adds a new paved and covered drive-through entryway. The conference room could seat 847 and accommodate 484 people for a sit-down dinner. The price tag would be $3.1 million. When completed in 1983, the sports center cost about $8 million.

Plans for Centennial Park include 46 new campsites and a second access road at a cost of $90,000. Paving the access roads would run $110,000 and running water, sewer and electricity to the sites would be an additional $212,000.

Adamson had two designs for the proposed field house. One, which he labeled "expansive," would be more than 120,000 square feet and could accommodate football and soccer on its field, along with bleachers, restrooms and concession stands. It also could include a performing arts center and convention facilities. He speculated this design could cost upward of $30 million and cost $750,000 a year to operate and maintain.

The more modest "general purpose" field house could still accommodate football and soccer, and the floor space could be used for golf practice, conventions and trade shows. It would be about 80,000 square feet and could cost up to $20 million. Operation and maintenance would run about $450,000 annually.

The plan was received with universal approval from the council.

Council member Steve Horn said it exceeded his expectations.

"The city has a firm foot to move ahead with a plan for developing the area," Horn said. "I'm ready to move forward."

City Manager Tom Boedeker said he will have Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael present the plan to his advisory board, and if the council approves, work up an architectural budget.

"I hope to move somewhat quickly and form a committee," Boedeker said.

Horn urged the city manager to schedule a work session on the project before the council's first meeting in the new year.

Council member Dave Carey said he'd like to see a concentrated effort by a task force in the next six months to refine the plan.

"I hope we do more than just study this," he said.

He also called for expanded public input.

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