Kenai creates Parks and Recreation subcommittee to study possible outdoor stage

Eight Kenai residents have been appointed to a newly-created 10 member subcommittee tasked with studying the possibility of a permanent outdoor event venue in Kenai.

Council member Brian Gabriel authored the ordinance to create the subcommittee, which the Kenai city council passed unanimously at their Wednesday meeting, and will serve as the group’s chair.

Gabriel said the city needs a dedicated event space with a permanent stage because the Park Strip, an area near the airport presently used to host Kenai’s Fourth of July and Industry Appreciation Days celebrations, is not adequate.

“Although that works, it’s not really ideal,” Gabriel said of the Park Strip. “It’s sort of a long, angular piece of property… and every time I’ve been over there we have a temporary stage brought in. You might as well have a soapbox or a picnic table. You can’t hear what the speakers are saying, and because of the layout, it’s very awkward.”

The seven other members of the committee will be Kenai Parks and Recreation chairman Al Hull, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce’s secretary Meagan Smith and treasurer Brendyn Shiflea, architect Chris Parker of K and A Design Studios, Kenai Performers vice-president Phil Morin, Whitey’s Music store owner Scott Merry, and Kenai Central High School’s theatre technician Tim Elder. The group’s task will be to develop designs for facilities — including a stage, shelters, vending, and parking areas — find a new or existing park area to house event facilities, and to estimate cost.

The Council unanimously voted to amend Gabriel’s ordinance. Future applicants will be reviewed and appointed by the subcommittee’s sitting members.

Gabriel originally introduced a proposal at the Kenai Council’s July 15 meeting for a committee to investigate construction of a permanent stage on the vacant lot designated as Millennium Square, near the Kenai Senior Center. Wednesday’s ordinance allows the subcommittee to look at other city-owned properties.

The ordinance passed at Wednesday’s meeting also removed a request in Gabriel’s original proposal for a $25,000 appropriation for the subcommittee’s work. In Gabriel’s July 9 memo introducing his plans to the council, he noted that the existing space at the Park Strip could not be easily developed into a suitable venue because it belonged to the airport reserve, a land category in Kenai which prioritizes airport-related use.

With the focus on Millennium Square removed from his proposal, the question of developing the Park Strip and other airport-reserved land for recreational use came up again.

Council member Ryan Marquis noted that the Park Strip presently has improvements such as outhouses and shelters unrelated to airport use and asked city Manager Rick Koch why a stage could not be built there.

“Those are all temporary in nature, in that they are secondary to airport use,” Koch responded, referring to the existing Park Strip improvements. “If a business were to approach the city and say they wanted to develop something in that area that would be related to the airport, we would be obligated to respond to that… Whatever’s there now would be secondary to airport use.”

Koch said a permanent stage could be built at the Park Strip, but it would also be subject to removal.

“From the administration’s perspective, how much money do you want to put into permanent improvements when there’s an underlying risk that they may go away?” Koch said.

According to the ordinance, the new subcommittee will give the council a final report on possible event spaces before January 31, 2016, in time for the Council to consider its development for the fiscal year 2017 (July 2016 to June 2017) budget.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com

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