Chidem Cherrier speaks at a Kenai City Council work session about waterfront development on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Chidem Cherrier speaks at a Kenai City Council work session about waterfront development on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

‘A view city without a view’: Public voices support for revitalization of Kenai waterfront

Development of the city’s waterfront was identified as a priority by the city in its “Imagine Kenai 2030” comprehensive plan.

A fisherman’s wharf and a boardwalk are among the ideas members of the public told the Kenai City Council they envision for the future of the Kenai waterfront during a public work session.

The work session, which was held immediately prior to the council’s regular meeting on Wednesday, was aimed at discussing revitalization of the waterfront along Bridge Access Road from Millennium Square to the city dock.

Development of the city’s waterfront was identified as a priority by the city in its “Imagine Kenai 2030” comprehensive plan, which was approved by the Kenai City Council in 2016. Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said Wednesday that the revitalization of the waterfront is the only area of the city specifically identified in the plan.

“The untapped potential and importance of Kenai’s unique, defining natural asset near the mouth of the Kenai River has catalytic possibilities for large-scale waterfront development on vacant or abandoned sites previously utilized by commercial fishing processors,” Ostrander wrote in a June 29 memo about the project.

Ostrander said the goal of the work session was for the city council to give city administrators the green light to introduce legislation at the council’s next meeting that would approve funding for a feasibility study for the project, which Ostrander said would work to engage the community and determine what they envision for the area. If approved for introduction by the council, a public hearing on the legislation approving the funding would be held during the council’s Sept. 1 meeting.

Elements of the study would include an evaluation of market conditions, a review of existing city plans and regulations and an implementation plan to guide redevelopment in the future, among other things.

“We’ve got this incredible area (that) I think everyone would admit is underutilized,” Ostrander said Wednesday.

The council heard from several property owners located in or near the area being considered for development, all of whom were supportive of the city’s plan to revitalize the area.

Chidem Cherrier, who owns Port of Kenai LLC on the waterfront, said she envisions something like a fisherman’s wharf for the waterfront that would reflect the city’s fishing community.

“It would be something people would really enjoy and go back home and talk about,” Cherrier said. “I would like to see a very vibrant waterfront in Kenai.”

Gwen Woodard said she would like to see any new development along the waterfront incorporate the history of the Kenaitze Tribe.

“I think we’ve kind of ignored the fact that they were there first,” Woodard said.

A recurring topic during Wednesday’s discussion was how to get more people to turn toward Kenai when traveling on the Sterling Highway through Soldotna.

“One of the things we hear to this day — and have always heard — is that traffic goes from Anchorage to Homer,” said Fred Braun, one of the community members who spoke. “We’ve always discussed how do we get a certain percent of that traffic to Kenai. Take the right turn and come to Kenai.”

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel agreed and said he supports the development and revitalization of the waterfront in Kenai, which he jokingly called “a view city without a view.”

“Reading the tea leaves, I think we would probably all be supportive of a feasibility study,” Gabriel said Wednesday.

If the council adheres to a draft timeline presented to them earlier this month, legislation funding the waterfront feasibility study would be introduced at the council’s Aug. 18 meeting with a public hearing and vote during the council’s Sept. 1 meeting. The introduction of legislation outlining potential business development incentive programs would occur during the council’s Nov. 3 meeting with a public hearing and vote during the council’s Dec. 1 meeting.

Proposed incentive programs described by city documents include, in addition to waterfront revitalization, exempting economic developments from city property tax, which the plan says would incentivize capital investment, and exempting depreciating properties from city tax, which would encourage the development of deteriorating buildings.

More information about the programs can be found on the city of Kenai’s website at kenai.city.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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