New ownership brings fresh approach to movies, bowling in Kenai

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct a reference to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District’s 2017 second-quarter consumer spending report.  

Though many central peninsula residents are filling long summer afternoons with fishing, hiking, and boating, Kenai may offer them new entertainment options by the time winter returns. Two Kenai entertainment venues — a bowling alley and a movie theater — found new ownership this year and are planning to restart or expand by year’s end.

Kenai’s former Regal Kambe Theatre — now known as Kenai Cinema after being bought by the Ashland, Oregon-based Coming Attractions Theatres on May 4 — plans to expand from three screens to five and to open an arcade-like game center in the long-vacant building next door. Both are expected to be working in time for Christmas, said Coming Attractions CEO John Schweiger.

The Kenai bowling alley has seen refurbishments to its carpets and furnishings. Its new owners are seeking financing to modernize the lanes, machines, and equipment before opening, said bowling alley co-owner Charlotte Yamada.

Entertainment is a relatively small but significant part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough economy. According to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District’s second-quarter 2017 consumer spending report, Borough residents spent about $20.4 million on fees and admissions to entertainment venues in 2016 — sitting between the $18. 86 million spent on personal care products and services and the $36.6 million spent on gifts. Like other areas of consumer spending, the Economic Development District expects entertainment fee spending to grow modestly over the coming decade, projecting it to reach $24,996 by 2021.

In Kenai’s near future, entertainment may grow more rapidly. Schweiger said the Kenai Cinema employed 10 people in its former incarnation as the Regal Kambe Theatre. When Coming Attractions bought it, the company re-interviewed the employees and kept all but two, who left voluntarily. Schwieger plans to hire about five more, and to seek other local services such as a janitorial contract and installation of a larger marquee sign to replace the small one that now stands in front of the theater. Schweiger said he plans to keep the Kenai Cinema open most of the time during the renovations and additions.

After the expansion, he said, “We’ll be able to show a larger variety of movies.”

“We will step into foreign films,” Scheiger said. “A lot of times, there’s an accumulation of people who like German films, Italian films, French films, et cetera.”

He added that local movies may also come to the new screens. Coming Attractions’ other Alaska theater — the 12-screen Valley Cinema in Wasilla, where Scheiwger lives — has premiered the locally-made horror-comedy “Moose: The Movie.”

Across the Kenai Cinema’s parking lot to the south stands a blue metal-sided building — known as the Kenai Professional Center — erected as a two-story office space in 1968, but vacant since the mid-1980s. Before Coming Attractions bought it, the building was owned by Ron’s Rent-it Center, which had originally planned to move into it from its present building near the Kenai airport. The move that never took place. Until Coming Attractions began stripping and renovating it last week, it was being used as storage. This winter, Schweiger said, the company plans to open it as an Extreme Fun Center — a brand of amusement halls it presently operates in Wasilla and Aberdeen, Washington.

Presently, Sweiger said, “We’re researching what will work best in a smaller Fun Center like this.” The first attractions to arrive, he said, will be video games and arcade redemption games, which offer tokens that players trade for prizes. In addition, Schweiger said the two-story center will have lots of space that can be rented for parties and events.

“We’re really going to try to make it look good,” Schwieger said. “There’ll be a lot of changes in that building.” Schweiger plans to start the Extreme Fun Center with eight employees.

Kenai Cinema manager Rosey Rawluk said the theater will continue to accept Regal gift cards and coupons until Nov. 3.

Bowling

Kenai’s bowling alley was built in 1984 and first opened as Kenai Bowl. It occupied city-owned land, for which the bowling alley’s owners paid an annual lease that was used to support the Kenai Municipal Airport. The previous owner paid Kenai a $27,000 annual lease, which he defaulted on just before going out of business in late 2015. Kenai acquired the building in a settlement of the debt, and tried unsuccessfully to sell or lease it before reaching an $450,000 sales agreement in February with Anchorage-based commercial real estate consultant Dean You. Charlotte Yamada and her husband, Glenn Yamada, will operate the bowling alley while leasing the building from You and his co-investor, Sue Chang.

Charlotte Yamada didn’t have a speculative opening time for the bowling alley. Before the balls start rolling again, her group plans to replace the wooden lanes — “state of the art in 1983,” she said — with modern synthetic material, as well as refurbishing the pin-setting machines and installing automatic gutter bumpers and neon lights. Beyond the lanes themselves, Yamada said, her group’s plans include a shop for bowling gear and a snack bar with some homemade food.

“When I get stressed out I cook,” Yamada said. “And probably three quarters of the stuff I don’t eat, so I have to send it out. … Lots of good food, lots of different things. I’m Russian, from Ninilchik. My husband is Japanese, from Hawaii. So a whole mix of good food.”

Like the previous owners of the bowling alley — who ran it under the name AlaskaLanes — Yamada said her group would use the rooms attached to the bowling alley as a lounge, event center, and arcade (which she said may include video games, pinball, and the golf simulator that was previously there).

“We’re going to try to bring in different entertainment acts and stuff,” Yamada said. “It’s a very big space and a good opportunity. There’s a need for fun places to host Christmas parties and conventions and all sorts of stuff. … We’ll have lots of options for lots of different people. We may even have some karaoke.”

But first must come the money. Yamada said she’s had “to try a couple different routes” to finalize the bowling alley’s financing, because “a bowling alley is so specific, and it’s not the easiest thing.” The relatively small number of bowling alleys in Alaska raises the price of such specialized services as lane-building and pin-setting machine installation, and makes them difficult to finance, install, maintain, and insure. Yamada said her group has gotten planning assistance from other Alaska bowling alleys, and from the nation-wide trade organization Bowling Proprietors Association of America.

“We have everything lined out and prepped and ready to go,” Yamada said. “We’re just kind of waiting on the green light with the finances.”

Reach Ben Boettger at benjamin.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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