A new sign welcoming people to the City of Soldotna is photographed on May 1, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A new sign welcoming people to the City of Soldotna is photographed on May 1, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

New signs create gateway to Soldotna

The signs were built by the city’s maintenance department

When coming into Soldotna from any direction, drivers may have spotted some recent additions to the landscape. Over the past month, the City of Soldotna placed three 18-feet tall, obelisk-shaped gateway signs that welcome people to the city: one on the corner of the Kenai Spur Highway and Knight Drive, one on the Sterling Highway in front of Whistle Hill and a third on the Sterling Highway where it crosses the Kenai River.

The placement of these signs is part of a larger effort by the city to develop a vibrant downtown area for Soldotna and encourage the growth of local businesses in the community. The Downtown Improvement Plan was developed back in 2014 and came out of Soldotna’s 2011 Comprehensive Plan, Envision Soldotna 2030. In 2016 the city allocated funds for new signage and began exploring bids for the contracts to build gateway signs, banners and park signs.

The city’s Director of Planning and Economic Development John Czarnezki said on Tuesday that initially, the lowest bid the city found for the three signs was for more than $287,000. As a result, the city opted to build them in-house with the help of Soldotna’s Street and Maintenance Department. The maintenance team, led by Scott Sundberg, worked through the winter and constructed the signs for just under $120,000. Czarnezki said that he was happy that the city saved the taxpayers a substantial amount of money while still delivering quality results, and Sundberg said on Wednesday that he was proud of the work his team put into the signs.

While most of the fabrication was done by Sundberg and his team in their shop, they did contract some work out to local businesses. Sherman Signs crafted the letters and the signs were made weather resistant thanks to Peninsula Powder Coating. These were the first signs that Sundberg and the maintenance team had fabricated, and he said the biggest challenge came from the sheer size of the materials.

“When you’ve got an 18-foot sheet of thin metal, making sure it doesn’t bend can be a little tricky,” Sundberg said.

Czarnezki said that the next step in the Downtown Improvement Plan will be a series of streetscape improvements, including three small areas on the corner of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways and a larger parcel at Thompson’s Corner across from Soldotna Creek Park. The city will be planting trees and flowers in these green spaces starting later this month, with the goal of improving visual continuity along the highway. After those improvements are made, further funds will need to be allocated by the city council in order to continue with the implementation of the Downtown Improvement Plan, which includes improving multimodal transportation around the city and fostering more economic development along Riverside Drive.

Czarnezki said that ultimately he hopes to help create a thriving downtown Soldotna and in the process change the general perception of the city.

“Right now a lot of people see Soldotna as a place to stop and get gas on the way to Homer or Seward,” Czarnezki said. “We want to give people a reason to shop at our businesses and stay a while.”

A new sign welcoming people to the City of Soldotna is photographed on May 1, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A new sign welcoming people to the City of Soldotna is photographed on May 1, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

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