Editor’s note: This story has been changed to remove an inacurrate statement of Charlotte Yamada’s cost estimate to renovate the Kenai bowling alley.
The Kenai bowling alley will be under new management — but whose management will depend on the results of a request for interested parties that will be issued by the building’s current owners, the city of Kenai. At least one local group is interested in running the 12-lane bowling alley, which went out of business in late summer 2015.
Bowler Charlotte Yamada, representing a group she formed with three local residents interested in reviving the bowling alley, went to two Kenai City Council meetings — on Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 — to advocate for reopening the building.
“Both of my kids love bowling,” Yamada said. “We’ve decided, if it is at all feasible, to see it remain a bowling center.”
Yamada said she knew of at least one other local resident — whom she wouldn’t name — who might also respond to the city’s request, albeit with a proposal to use the building for a purpose other than bowling. In a discussion at the Nov. 4 Kenai city council meeting, Koch said the request would not exclude non-bowling proposals.
Yamada, a day care provider, said her group has never managed a large business before.
“We’re probably new to something this big,” Yamada said. Other members of her group are her husband Glenn Yamada, and another married couple: Mountain View Elementary teacher Nicole Cunningham and Soldotna city information technology manager Brice Cunningham.
When speaking to the council, Yamada emphasized youth bowling. Dwight Kramer was president of Kenai’s Youth Bowling Association, which became inactive after the bowling alley closed. He said his league usually had 30-40 bowlers between the ages of 6 and 20.
“The kids that are 15 or 16 years old right now, a couple of them have been to national tournaments over the years and have recognition and have colleges looking at them for scholarships,” Kramer. “And it’s such a shame for it all to come to a screeching halt.”
The United States Bowling Congress manages a program called SMART (Scholarship Management and Accounting Reports for Tenpins) that awards scholarship money to youth members participating in its bowling competitions, and holds the money in investment accounts until their high school graduation.
Kramer said that some members of the Youth Bowling Association had earned $15,000 in SMART money. Yamada said her son Mason Yamada had around $20,000 in SMART money and has also been invited to join bowling teams by several colleges.
“He eats, sleeps, and breathes bowling,” Yamada said, adding that after the Kenai bowling alley closed her family has traveled to Homer and Anchorage on alternating weekends to bowl.
“This is the worst year not to have (a bowling alley),” Yamada said. “All these colleges calling my son want to see videos of what he’s working on, what his game is. And he’s got nowhere to practice.”
Yamada, who is on the board of the Alaska State Youth Bowling Tournament, said that this year several local youth bowlers would have a similar disadvantage due to lack of practice space.
In addition to youth, Yamada said the bowling alley had also been popular with seniors, who had three leagues that bowled weekly.
The Kenai bowling alley was built in 1984 on city-owned land within Kenai’s airport reserve. Technically included in the Kenai airport, the reserve is made of land granted to Kenai by the Federal Aviation Administration in the 1960s, and comes with the requirement that it be used to benefit the airport. Selling it requires a special arrangement with the Federal Aviation Authority.
The bowling alley building was most recently owned by Ken Liedes, who operated it under the name of his company, Alaskalanes Inc. Although Liedes owned the building, he leased the land it stood on from Kenai.
Alaska Lane’s annual rent for the 1.87 acres beneath the bowling alley was renegotiated every 5 years, and as of July 1, 2013 was $27,000, an increase of $13,530 since 1988, when the rent was $13,470. The single largest rent increase was in 2008, when the rent jumped $6,240. Kenai City manager Rick Koch said the rent was calculated as a percentage of the property’s market value, as determined by an appraiser.
The business struggled as Liedes aged, and failed in autumn 2015 after Liedes’ wife, a partner in the bowling alley, died at the beginning of the year. Kenai city attorney Scott Bloom wrote that “the City had been working with (Liedes) for several years to comply with lease payments and terms” but that the lease was terminated on Sept. 1 after Liedes defaulted in August.
Although a loan Liedes took on the building from the federal Small Business Administration may have complicated the title, Bloom said that following Liedes’ default, Kenai took ownership of the building as well as the land.
Pins are still standing inside bowling alley, but the machinery — dating from around the time of the building’s construction — is deteriorating. Koch said that two of the building’s four ceiling-mounted heating units had cracked heat exchangers. The six ball-return machines and the pin-setting system have not been tested since the building closed, and Koch said the obsolete electronics of the alley’s scoring system — which uses cathode ray tube monitors — may contain old parts that are impossible to replace.
Koch said that Kenai had done nothing with the building or its systems aside from the deactivating the sprinklers and winterizing the pipes. The condition of the plumbing and wiring within the walls are “unknowns,” Yamada said.
For Yamada’s group, another large expense may be covering the alley’s lanes — which Yamada said she thought were the last wooden bowling lanes in Alaska — with a modern synthetic overlay, which she said would be easier to bowl on. She also plans to replace the building’s toilets, exchange the CRT score-screens for LEDs, and install new carpet.
“It’s going to be tough,” Yamada said. “It’s going to be a lot of work. But one thing we’ve got on our side is that our bowling community is fantastic. … There are a lot of people who really miss bowling.”
Yamada said she had heard from several volunteers who planned to contribute labor to a possible bowling alley renovation. Yamada had organized them by creating a Facebook page called “Save Bowling in Kenai.”
Koch said Kenai’s request for proposals will give potential managers of the bowling alley three possible arrangements with the city: to lease both the land and the building, to purchase the building and lease the land, and to purchase both the building and the land.
Yamada said she strongly preferred to purchase the building while leasing the land. She said the potential of unpredictably increasing rent rates would not deter her.
“If the rules are the airport needs to be self-sustaining, that’s what we need to do as a community,” Yamada said. “If having a business in Kenai versus Soldotna is not quite fair because of this airport stipulation, then you know what? It’s a cost of doing business in Kenai.”
Kenai’s request for proposals will remain open between 90 and 120 days after its release. Koch said it will be advertised locally, as well as online and in publications in Anchorage and out-of-state. After the request has expired, the Kenai city council will choose a respondent to sell or lease the bowling alley to.