The former Alaskalanes bowling alley and Kenai property on which it stands are up for lease or purchase from its owner, the city of Kenai.
The 12-lane bowling alley has been closed since summer 2015, when it became city property after its then-owner defaulted on lease payments to the city. Kenai’s request for proposals from groups interested in using the facility — either as a bowling alley or for another commercial purpose — was released Feb. 16.
The 1.87-acre property, located on the Kenai Spur Highway next to Three Bears grocery store, is municipal land belonging to the Kenai airport. Various business owners of the bowling alley have leased the land since the alley was built in 1984. Although the land was municipal, the building has belonged to private owners, most recently Kenneth Liedes. When Leides defaulted on his yearly lease payments the building went to the city along with the land.
Kenai’s standard annual lease payment is 8 percent of the land’s market value, which is re-appraised every five years. Liedes began making a lease payment of $13,470 in 1987. At the time of his default, he was paying $27,000.
Kenai is now giving anyone interested in the property three options for managing it: leasing the land and buying the building as previous owners have done, leasing both the building and the land, or buying both the building and the land.
Kenai City Manager Rick Koch’s office will take applications for the request until April 14. After that, Koch said the proposals will be reviewed by a selection board of three to five members, who will rank the proposals in order to give a recommendation to the Kenai City Council, which will vote on an arrangement with a new owner or lessee. Koch said the Kenai Airport Commission would also examine the proposals.
Koch said he hadn’t yet decided who will be on the selection committee, but speculated it could include a member of the Airport Commission, Kenai Finance Director Terry Eubank and a financial expert from outside the city.
The city’s request for proposals lists three criteria the selection board will use to rank the proposals, and states that each criteria will determine a percentage of the proposal’s score. According to the request, 80 percent of the decision will be based on the lease or purchase costs applicants propose. Ten percent will be based on the proposer’s financial ability to lease or purchase, and another 10 percent will based on the proposal’s benefit to the community.
“I just sat down and thought through a process and tried to provide appropriate weights given the manner in which the airport was given the title to that property from the federal government, for operations of the airport,” Koch said, describing how he created the criteria.
When the Federal Aviation Administration gave Kenai the title to the airport in the 1960s, the property extended from the present airport to the Cook Inlet bluffs. Pieces of that original property have since been sold or leased to businesses such as the bowling alley. By the terms of Kenai’s agreement with the FAA, money from leases and sales of airport land must benefit the airport by going into the airport’s operating fund.
At least one group of Kenai residents is interested in taking over the property and managing it as a bowling alley. Bowling enthusiast Charlotte “Charlie” Yamada, who has formed a business to operate the bowling alley with three other locals, said she intends to submit her group’s proposal sometime this week.
Having visited council meetings and other events since fall 2015 to advocate for the building’s continuation as a bowling alley, Yamada has started an online petition addressed to Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, asking that the property’s future managers be required to operate the facility as a bowling alley. Since its posting on Feb. 13, the petition has been signed by 100 people as of Wednesday afternoon.
“My goal will be to renovate the entire building, inside and out,” Yamada said. She described plans to refurbish the building’s interior first, and the exterior within five years. She estimated the interior renovations would cost around $400,000 to $500,000.
Realtor Fred Braun said he had received “a fair number of calls” from people interested in the property.
“Now that we know the property can be available for purchase, and not just the building … I think there will be some activity for sure,” Braun said.
Braun said he knew of two contractors who had examined the building. The 30-year-old structure is an arch-roofed metal hut with a shell-like wooden facade built around it. Braun said some of his clients who have looked at the property said they would be unable to use it.
“Say somebody wanted it for a professional office space,” Braun said. “You’re going to have to have a lot of windows. Is that doable? It’s basically got two walls. … It worked out fine for a bowling alley — you don’t need windows. Any other retail space, or professional office, it would require a lot of windows, and I don’t think that’s doable. That was one of the biggest issues. Not just windows, but the fact that you don’t know what you’re getting into until you start tearing into those walls. It may well be cheaper to tear it down, demo it and start over. I believe that’s probably what’s going to happen.”
Braun, who has previously advocated for the city to sell rather than lease its airport property, said he is glad to see Kenai considering selling both the building and the land.
“I really am pleased to see the city taking a strong look at it and doing what they’re trying to do,” he said. “I think it’s in the best interest of the city. Long-run wise, I believe it’s still in the best interest of the airport on certain properties.”
After Yamada submits her proposal, she said she intends to continue making calls, posting on her Facebook page “Save Bowling in Kenai,” attending public meetings, and organizing local bowlers to support her plans. She said the best outcome would be for the building to remain a bowling alley, whether managed by her group or another.
“It’s up to the city council to make that choice,” Yamada said. “And hopefully they’ll see that the community does need this. With no other real option for recreational facilities, I sure hope they choose it.”