Bowling balls may soon be rumbling again down the lanes of Kenai’s bowling alley, bought this week by a group of business people that includes Anchorage-based commercial real estate consultant Dean You and avid Kenai bowler Charlotte Yamada.
You said his group plans to make the bowling alley a place of entertainment similar to what it was before it went out of business in fall 2015. It was known as AlaskaLanes at the time and featured, in addition to the bowling alley, a miniature golf course, an electronic arcade and a pool table.
“Basically, I think we’re going to have the same operation that was in there before, except more person- and community-friendly,” You said. “If everything falls into place, there’s going to be a golf simulator, and the bowling alley’s the main attraction, and there’ll be a side for the venues we’ll bring to town for entertainment.”
A difficult sale
Though it was privately built in 1984, the 1.84 acres of land under the bowling alley is among the just over 461 acres of city-owned land leased by local businesses. AlaskaLanes’ last owner, Ken Liedes, paid the city a $27,000 annual lease for the land, which he defaulted on just before going out of business. Kenai acquired the building in a settlement of Liedes’ debt.
You, of the Anchorage-based PacRim Commercial Consulting, will pay Kenai’s city government $450,000 for the property in a sale that was approved by the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, closed on Thursday and officially recorded on Friday. The sale price reflects the value of the land, as determined by a city-commissioned assessment in March 2016, but not the building, which is disrepair.
You assigned ownership of the building to Sue Chang, whom Yamada said will serve as a building manager and landlord while leasing the space to Yamada and her husband, Glenn Yamada, who will manage the bowling side of it, and another local business person who will operate other entertainments.
Yamada’s family was active in Kenai’s bowling leagues during the time the alley was open — her oldest son Mason Yamada is now a college athlete bowling for Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, and her younger son Marcus will bowl in a youth scholarship tournament in Anchorage this weekend. After AlaskaLanes closed, the family made trips to lanes in Anchorage or to Homer’s Cosmic Bowling, the closest remaining alley to Kenai, so their sons could practice,Charlotte Yamada said.. Since then, she has become a vocal bowling advocate, organizing support with the Facebook page “Save Bowling in Kenai” and testifying frequently at Kenai city council meetings on the value of bowling as a community activity.
Charlotte and Glenn Yamada, with another couple, initially sought to buy the bowling alley when Kenai first tried to sell it in February 2016. They planned to form a company called Strike City 907 and submitted a business plan to Kenai along with their offer to buy the building for $75,000 and lease the land.
The Kenai Bible Church, seeking to relocate from their present location on Kenai’s eroding bluff, made a competing $75,000 offer on the bowling alley.
In April 2016, the city rejected both offers. By August 2016 it was considering two new offers — a $525,000 offer from You and a $450,000 offer from Michael Heard, owner of Soldotna’s King Salmondeaux fishing lodge.
Heard wrote to Kenai council members that he intended to re-open the bowling alley and use other space in the building as an art and antique gallery. He made the offer in cash — believing that the council would not accept other financing arrangements, said Kenai real estate agent Fred Braun, who represented Heard in the deal.
At its Sept. 21, 2016 meeting, the city council rejected Heard’s offer in favor of You’s.
After the council agreed to the $525,000 deal, You had trouble financing the purchase. Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom reported at the council’s Oct. 5 meeting that Kenai would again consider other offers.
By the Jan. 4 council meeting, one last competing offer had been made by Schilling Rentals, a company that owns other commercial properties in Kenai such the Decor Building office complex on Trading Bay Road and the former Carl’s Junior building on the Kenai Spur Highway. Bloom said the Schillings offer was “significantly lower” than You’s, and the council rejected it, voting instead for a revised deal with You for $450,000.
That agreement also went through two different versions before concluding on Friday. The first, which the city council approved on Jan. 18 and You failed to close on by the due date of Jan. 19, took a $20,000 initial payment from You and allowed him to pay back the rest in monthly installments with 75 percent interest. Friday’s final deal offers the same arrangement, but with a higher deed of trust held by the city for a longer term.
Future of Bowling
Though members of You’s group hasn’t yet decided on a name for their venture or a schedule for their work, Charlotte Yamada said she’s drawn plans for renovating the bowling alley and snack bar and is looking for an architect. Her plans include taking out some walls to open up the space and replacing the present wooden surfaces of the 12 bowling lanes with modern synthetic material, which she estimated would cost between $225,000 and $250,000.
Before it closed, AlaskaLanes hosted youth and senior bowling leagues, as well as a team of Special Olympics bowlers who won a state tournament in 2015. Charlotte Yamada said members of the local bowling community are exited about the prospect of a reopening.
“Honestly, my phone’s been ringing off the hook,” she said. “Somebody actually called me to volunteer until we get up and on our feet. He said ‘I’ve bowled for thirty years, and I don’t know what I’ve done with myself this past year.’ Boy, it’s time… Bowlers are a great group of people — they know a lot of things go on behind the scenes in this kind of deal, and people have called or emailed me about it. It’s going to take all kinds of things — we’re going to have to do (demolition), we’re going to have to replace carpet, build bathrooms, move some walls. The work feels unfathomable, but at the same time, I like a challenge.”
Dwight Kramer is one of the people who plan to put some of their time into renovating the building. He served as president of Kenai’s Youth Bowling Association, which he said had between 30-40 members before it became inactive when AlaskaLanes closed. Some of its former members have joined leagues in Anchorage in order to participate in state competitions, he said, but “it really hurt the program when we lost the bowling alley.”
“If we can get the bowling alley fired up again and get the youth program started up again, which I know we will, it’ll be great,” Kramer said.
As for Charlotte Yamada, she said the city council has most likely not seen the last of her.
“I’ll probably be going back to meetings and encouraging the new administration to come up with some sort of incentives for business owners, because we want to entice people in,” she said. “One of the draws for me in trying to do the bowling alley in Kenai is it’s in a fairly conspicuous place and it’s fairly open. If I can be fairly transparent and hopefully show other businesses: ‘Let’s do some business in Kenai! Let’s open some stuff up!’”
Work on the bowling alley has only just begun, You said.
“We’ll be coming down there (to Kenai) pretty frequently in the coming months,” he said. “It’s exciting when you think about it. There’s a long hard, road in front of us.”
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.