The city of Kenai’s municipal assets include twelve wooden bowling lanes, a collection of bowling balls and pins, a pin-setting machine from the mid-1980s, a commercial kitchen and the locked, cavernous building that contains it all — the former Alaskalanes bowling alley, located on the Kenai Spur Highway.
The defunct bowling alley, given to the city in a debt settlement, has so far been the subject of four purchase offers — two of which Kenai rejected this summer, and two more recent ones still being considered.
The Kenai City Council discussed the pending offers in two closed executive sessions — the first at a special council meeting on Aug. 10, and later at the regular council meeting Wednesday.
The bowling alley was built on city-owned land by a private developer in 1984 and has since been held by various owners and managers who paid Kenai an annual rent for the land. The last was Ken Liedes, who in fall 2015 went out of business and defaulted on the land lease, leaving both the land and the unused 19,656 square-foot building in city hands.
An appraisal by MacSwain Associates in March 2016 valued the 1.87 acre piece of land and the building (excluding the equipment inside) at $800,000. The appraisal estimated the building had maintenance needs — including broken gas-fired heating units and carpet, exterior shingles and a metal awning in need of replacement — that would cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
When the city requested proposals from prospective bowling alley buyers or lessees in Feb. 2016, two groups responded: the Kenai Bible Church and Strike City 907, a company formed by four local residents with the goal of owning and operating the bowling alley.
Kenai Bible Church presently sits on land it has held since 1940, on top of the eroding bluff in Old Town Kenai, where Pastor Vance Wonser said “there’s been a couple pretty big chunks that have gone off in the past year.” According to a letter to Kenai administrators from Wonser and Deacon Fred Swen, a third of the church’s property has eroded away.
Wonser said that when he began going to the church in 1988, there was a dirt road and a parking space between the church and the bluff edge.
That space has now fallen off and the road has been downgraded to a narrower walking path.
“We’re pretty well land-locked where we are,” Wonser said. “We don’t have a lot of room to build on and no room for additional parking.”
Parking is an issue because Kenai Bible Church is undergoing one of its periodic membership expansions, Wonser said. The Alaskalanes building suited the church’s plans to enlarge its parking space and create indoor areas for youth activities such as basketball.
“The size seemed adequate,” Wonser said. “The location — obviously a high visibility location right in the middle of Kenai. And because of how run-down it is, how much work it needs, it seemed like a building that we might be able to get at a reasonable price and spend some time and money on to make it fit our needs … Buildings that size without going out of town are hard to come by. Our heritage is here in town, so we’d really like to stay here.”
Kenai Bible Church offered $75,000 in its proposal for the property, made via realtor Fred Braun. After submitting the proposal “well before” the April deadline, Wonser said the congregation didn’t hear from Kenai administrators until receiving a rejection on July 5.
“Our realtor told us when he was making the bid that he understood they wanted someone in the building who could make revenue for the city,” Wonser said. “And we understand that. As we said in our letter, we feel like we’re a different kind of value to the city.”
The letter states “Like parks, churches don’t add direct revenue to the city, but they add value both in quality of life for current residents and by attracting new residents to the area.”
Asked if Kenai Bible Church is continuing to search for a new building, Wonser said, “We’re passively looking.”
“Basically we’re just waiting for the Lord to bring the right building to us,” he said.
Strike City 907 is a company formed by Charlotte and Glen Yamada and Bryce and Nicole Cunningham.
Charlotte Yamada — the group’s secretary and spokesperson and an avid bowler — has spoken frequently at city meetings about Kenai’s need for recreational activities and the value of maintaining the Alaskalanes building as a bowling alley.
She also started the Facebook group “Save Bowling in Kenai” to organize public support for a bowling venue.
According to the business plan it submitted to the city, Strike City 907 would have renovated the building and its bowling equipment over 3 years, offering $5.50 bowling games and $3 shoes rentals, as well as a cafe, and would have remained open until 2 a.m on Fridays and Saturdays.
Strike City 907 planned to lease the city land and buy the building for $75,000. For Strike City 907’s renovation and operation of the bowling alley, Yamada sought a loan from the Small Business Association, a federal agency that offers loans to entrepreneurs. In a letter to Kenai City Manager Rick Koch, she asked if she could use the Alaskalanes building as collateral.
In an email to Yamada, Koch replied that “In the event the building is purchased by an entity leasing the property, the City routinely allows for a security assignment to the lender.”
Koch wrote in the same email that he had believed Yamada was asking “‘would the city allow the leased building owned by the City to be used as collateral against a loan made to you and/or Strike City 907?’ If the building was owned by the City/Airport and leased, the City/Airport would not agree to a City/Airport asset being used as collateral for a loan to the lessee.”
Yamada wrote back, clarifying that Strike City 907 planned to purchase rather than lease the building. Kenai city records don’t include a reply from Koch, and Yamada said she received none. When it comes to Strike City 907’s unsuccessful proposal process, Yamada said she understands “why business owners don’t want to do business with the city.”
Although Kenai hasn’t actively solicited more offers on the bowling alley since the February 2016 request for proposals, a sign on the building continues to offer it for sale or lease.
Of the two present proposals — the details of which aren’t public because they’re pending financial transactions between the city and private entities — Koch said one was submitted on Aug. 3 and the other on Aug. 10, the day of a special city council meeting on the bowling alley property. He said both offers were to buy both the building and land.
Realtor Fred Braun, who is also representing one of the two current bidders, said at the Aug. 10 meeting that his client is “a cash buyer looking for a quick sale and closing,” according to the meeting’s minutes.
Yamada said Strike City 907 may seek another space to operate as a bowling alley, possibly outside of Kenai.
On Wednesday Yamada spoke to council members regarding the two pending proposals they’d be considering in a closed session at the end of the meeting.
“I hope the council would take great caution and look into making sure that each proposal really does want to keep it a bowling alley,” Yamada said. “I realize you can’t mandate that they keep it that way. But there is nothing for our kids in town to do.”
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org