Airport kiosk sparks debate

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2001

The Kenai Municipal Airport will have a new piece of furniture proudly displayed in its lobby to greet the new year. After a lofty debate in last Wednesday's Kenai City Council meeting, a new kiosk, emblazoned with Challenger Learning Center logos and designed to collect quarters from airport patrons, will spend a year-in-wait in the airport's waiting area.

The council voted to grant a special-use permit to the Challenger Center to display the kiosk, a fund-raising device that collects coins and demonstrates how a gravity vortex works, in the airport. The permit allows the city to grant a one-year usage to a specified person, group or organization for an other-than-usual situation.

Council member Jim Bookey protested the use of airport space to raise funds for the Challenger Center.

"I don't think that it's an appropriate thing to be putting in the airport," he said. "I have a hard time understanding why the Challenger Center, which we just donated over $20,000 to in a building permit process, wants to go to a level of looking for quarters like this. How many million dollars have you got in that place, today? I will not support this."

Bookey also raised questions about the ability to secure the kiosk in the airport and keep someone from walking away with it.

"I feel that security is going to be a hard thing to (maintain) with it," he said. "Are there any security personnel in the airport after midnight?"

Airport manager Rebecca Cronkhite said steps can be taken to prevent theft.

"We would certainly take what measures we could to prevent that," she said. "We could chain it down."

Cronkhite said there are security personnel on duty, but admitted that there was no way for them to watch the kiosk at all times.

"We do have Guardian Security on duty," she said. "But I can't guarantee that they're inside the facility. They also check other parts of the airport."

The kiosk is approximately 3 1/2-feet tall and about as big around as a phone booth. The model is made of oak and plexiglass and has Challenger Center labels on all sides and an attached box holding brochures.

The top of the device is shaped like the inverted top of a water cooler bottle, creating a plexiglass funnel. In one corner it has duo-directional slots where coins can be placed to start the gravity demonstration. A patron would drop a coin onto one of the slots and let gravity take control, watching the coin roll on its edge around the circumference of the funnel until it drops through the opening at the bottom.

Council member Pat Porter shared in Bookey's disapproval of the use of the airport for the kiosk, but took a different issue with the kiosk's proposed position.

"Once you allow one nonprofit into the airport, you open up the door for others," said Porter. "There are going to be others that think their cause is just as worthy. For that reason alone, I cannot support putting a kiosk for any nonprofit organization in the airport."

Mayor John Williams said the city purchased the kiosk from the Imaginarium in Anchorage for $800. He said he got the idea for the kiosk when he saw a similar one in the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage and saw more than just a way to generate dollars for the center.

"I think the fund-raising aspect is secondary," Williams said. "It will pick up a few coins. It's really a demonstration project going on there that's an announcement of the Challenger Center's presence. It is our intention to place several of these at airports across the country," Williams said.

Council member Joe Moore pointed out that a kiosk collecting money and offering information about a local organization outside of the airport's advertising agreement is far from a usual situation.

"Would this conflict with our advertising contract that we have?" Moore asked.

The airport has a 10-year advertising contract with Interspace Airport Advertising Inc. The contract went into effect Jan. 30, 1997, and states that any advertising in the Kenai airport must go through the agency. City attorney Carey Graves said he didn't feel the kiosk's presence in the airport would breech the city's contract with Interspace.

"I don't think it will," Graves said. "It's a device to raise money. The advertising is secondary."

Challenger Center Director Steve Horn affirmed Graves' assessment of the kiosk's use.

"It's informational," Horn said. "It's there to get the word out about the center."

Council member Duane Ban-nock suggested that applying the special-use permit would alleviate any questions of limiting non-profits.

"That is why this has been proposed with a special-use permit," he said. "We have the ability to say, 'no.' It's the right tool to use for just this occasion, and that is the tool that allows us to review each and everything on a case-by-case basis. It's not unfair, it's not illegal and it's not immoral for us to say, 'no.'"

The matter was put to a vote and the result was 5-2 in favor of the permit for the kiosk. Bookey and Porter held the opposing votes.

In other news from Wednesday's council meeting:

The council approved an increase of $10,000 in the general fund to purchase furniture and equipment for the downstairs council office space to open in city hall by January.

The council approved an appropriation of $82,800 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the fire department to pay for personal protective gear. The FEMA grant will purchase equipment to replace Scott Air Packs and associated equipment currently used by the fire department.

The council approved the renewal of the liquor license of American Legion Post No. 20/Club.

The city of Kenai will enter into an escrowed funds agreement with Clint Hall of Hall Quality Builders and the Archer Escrow Co. for the purchase and improvement of 53 lots in the Inlet Woods Subdivision, Part One.

Hall purchased land from the city under an installation agreement requiring that he pay to install electrical connections to the units built in his portion of the properties. According to city records, the agreement was not fulfilled.

Hall proposed an alternate agreement under which a third party, Archer Escrow Co., would establish a trust fund to hold a deposit of $180,000 until Hall completed the originally agreed upon improvements to the area. When the improvements are completed, Hall will receive the property deeds from the city, and the city will receive the deposit. If Hall fails to complete the improvements by Aug. 30, he will pay a $20,000 penalty to the city, and the city will get the deeds for the land.

The next council meeting will be Jan. 2.

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