Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Brad Walker speaks during a small group activity as part of a community vision session for the Kenai Waterfront Revitalization Project on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Brad Walker speaks during a small group activity as part of a community vision session for the Kenai Waterfront Revitalization Project on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Community brainstorms future of Kenai’s waterfront

The City of Kenai moderated an event Thursday at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center

A group of about 45 local residents huddled Thursday night in the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, planning their vision for the future of Kenai’s waterfront. They were participating in the first of what will be multiple public listening sessions hosted by the City of Kenai as part of the city’s Waterfront Revitalization Project.

As handfuls of colorful sticky notes plastered with phrases like “increased tourism,” “economic development” and “wildlife viewing” began to decorate the walls, tables buzzed with ideas.

The Kenai Waterfront Revitalization Project, first identified in the City of Kenai’s “Imagine Kenai 2030” plan, aims to revitalize the section of waterfront from Millennium Square to the city dock along Bridge Access Road by incentivizing development. The land has been called “untapped potential” by Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander, who helped lead listening session activities Thursday night.

The event was moderated by McKinley Research Group LLC, to whom the City of Kenai awarded $95,000 for the implementation of a feasibility study for the project. Among other things, that study will include an analysis of market conditions, the recommendation of changes needed to existing city plans and zoning and an assessment of infrastructure needs.

City documentation shows that of the 19 pieces of land included in the project area, 74.4% are privately owned, 9% are owned by the City of Kenai and are leased and 16.5% are owned by the City of Kenai and are not leased. The parcels combined total about 112.6 acres. The largest parcel, owned by Port of Kenai LLC, covers about 16.5 acres. Owner Chidem Cherrier told the city council during a work session last August that she envisions a fisherman’s wharf for the area.

Led by facilitators, small groups of about six participants each considered the project’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, imagined the facilities needed to carry out their vision of the property and imagined what they’d like the area to look like in the short and long term.

Most groups agreed that the area’s strengths are the views it provides of Cook Inlet. Weaknesses included the proximity to ongoing erosion of the Kenai Bluff and that most of the land under consideration is privately held.

Some participants identified a convention center in the area as an opportunity, as well as education of the area’s fishing history.

When imagining what they wanted the waterfront area to look like in the future, participants used words like “thriving” and “gem” and put emphasis on year-round attractions. One group proposed a dual water slide-toboggan slide that could be used in the summer and in the winter, while others imagined outdoor dining and event venues.

“We would like to see a Kenai market boardwalk,” said Teea Winger, who serves on the Kenai City Council. “This would be important because of the diversification, economic development, joy and beauty of nature, natural space (and) the beauty of the view.”

Among the visions of the waterfront’s future that came out of a group led by McKinley Research Group’s Katie Berry were a commercially developed space that attracts investors and a destination “highly visited by tourists and locals alike.”

More work sessions are scheduled for the end of April, with an analysis of a preferred concept slated for the summer.

“It’d be great to get twice as many people at the April 26, 27th and 28th (meetings),” Ostrander said Thursday. “That’s when we really start getting down into the weeds a little bit more.”

More information about the Kenai Waterfront Revitalization Project can be found on the city’s website at kenai.city.

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

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