Lela Rosin remembers when Kalifornsky Beach Road was a two-lane street and how, years later, the community pushed for the construction of the Soldotna Sports Center, now a hub for local residents, she said.
Now, Rosin, the owner of the Duck Inn, said she is watching another major landmark break ground in the K-Beach community: a residence hall at Kenai Peninsula College.
“I think K-Beach has grown a lot, and I think this will help K-Beach even more,” Rosin said.
The KPC Kenai River Campus will open its dorm doors to up to 96 students on Aug. 15. There were no on-campus living accommodations prior to the dorms.
“This is a big deal for the Kenai (Peninsula) and KPC to put 96 students as residents here on the campus,” said Gary J. Turner, college director.
Turner said the college does not expect to house 96 students on opening day, however. The business plan written to support the project estimated about 67 percent — or 64 of 96 — of the beds will fill in the first academic year. For the 2014 summer term, he said the plan called for about 25 percent of the beds to be filled. In five years, the plan calls for about 90 percent of the beds to be filled during the fall and spring semesters. In the summer following, he said about 50 percent of the beds could be filled.
“These are just best guesses,” he said. “There’s so many variables to the summer (projections) I wouldn’t hinge a lot on that.”
Turner said the dorms will flood the K-Beach economy with an influx of new customers, aside from students.
The University of Alaska Anchorage last year received a $20 million National Science Foundation grant that will send 20 to 30 researchers to the campus for up to three days each summer, he said.
“In fact, they’re going to come this summer — it’s a tentative date but it looks good — (from) May 7, 8 and 9, and there will be 25 people coming down,” he said.
Researchers will stay at Alaska Christian College this year, but it is a five-year grant and Turner expects them to return for the duration of it, he said.
“And every time we attract a group like that, there comes with it an economic impact,” said Suzie Kendrick, campus advancement program manager. “We feel that it will be a direct reflection economically for the community as well.”
And so do K-Beach businesses.
“We do get a lot of college traffic as it is,” Coffee Roasters Owner Micah Shields said. “I would bet that anything that boosts KPC enrollment would help with business.”
While the K-Beach area is largely industrial and residential, he said he expects the residential students will help other K-Beach businesses.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Whitey’s Music Shop Co-owner Robb Justice said. “We’re hoping that it’s going to help business.”
Justice said college kids already stop by during lunch break, and he expects to see a slight rise in lessons, guitar sales and instrument repairs.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple more shops open up around here that cater to college types,” he said.
Save-U-More Assistant Manager Jenny Bushnell said about 15 percent of the store’s customers are college students.
She said she anticipates snack food and school supply sales to rise, though KPC students are not the businesses’ main customer.
For Big Daddy’s Pizza Owner Jason Manalli, that is the case, too, he said.
“We’re in a predominantly residential area so the backbone of our business are families,” he said. Pizza is good college food, however, he said.
Pizza, and other comfort foods, will be part of residents’ diet, said Tammie Willis, KPC residence life associated director.
“Students will gradually start to migrate towards a couple of their favorite hangout restaurants,” she said. “They’re going to be places where they can get comfort food and sit up until 2 o’clock in the morning eating pancakes and drinking coffee.”
Turner said dorm residents will likely flock to other stores also in Kenai and Soldotna for groceries and personal items.
“Students are pretty frugal — because they don’t have any money — and one student will come back (to campus) and say, ‘You know, I was at Three Bears and they’ve got Starvin Marvin’s Pizzas, 10 for five bucks,’” he said. “Fifteen students to Three Bears 30 minutes later and the Starvin Marvin’s Pizzas are gone.”
Movies will be popular with the residents, as well, Willis said. They will buy DVDs and take friends or dates to the movies at the Orca Theater.
“There’s always going to be the latest, greatest movie that’s coming out that everybody’s going to look forward to see,” she said. “That’s a pretty big activity among college students.”
The influx of students will also introduce a demand for employment, Willis said. While she said the college is focused on employing a majority of the residents in-house, there will be some seeking jobs locally.
The coffee shop owners along K-Beach said they often hire college students, and Big Daddy’s Pizza owner said he already employs a few KPC students.
For Rosin, who graduated with a business degree from KPC in 2004, hiring students from her alma mater closes the circle.
“It’s something that’s close to my heart,” she said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.