Soldotna’s Chamber of Commerce has been operating out of a building that can be a chore to reach at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Kalifornsky Beach Road. The city owns the property and pays the chamber to run a visitors center out of the building, but members from the chamber have said the space is too small to accommodate the increasing number of visitors to Soldotna.
Members of the chamber want to build on another city-owned property in downtown Soldotna, one that borders Soldotna Creek Park, and while no plans have been finalized, an agreement will go before the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday that would restrict development on the proposed site until the chamber has raised the capital it needs to construct a new building.
It’s not a type of agreement the city has normally used, said Soldotna City Manager Mark Dixson. However, the circumstances surrounding the project, the proposal and the parcel — which the city purchased for nearly $1 million in 2013 — made it a potentially beneficial one for the chamber and the city.
“The chamber is going to have to put a lot of effort, both in time and capital money into this project, and it really doesn’t behoove them to invest that kind of money if the city is going to sell the property or do something else that’s contrary to their development,” Dixson said. “It entices them to invest the staff time and capital into the project.”
According to the terms of the agreement, the city would not develop or sell any interest in the parcel for the next five years, to allow the chamber sufficient time to design and raise capital for the construction of a new center. If passed by the city’s council, the agreement would also bar the city from developing any project at Soldotna Creek Park that could interfere with the potential center.
“Lets say we decide to put up another pavilion,” Dixson said. “We wouldn’t necessarily put up a new pavilion right adjacent to where they’re planning to build.”
In exchange for the city’s agreement not to develop the property, the chamber will commit to a series of benchmarks for progress on a new building that bind it to a design and fundraising schedule.
While no final decisions have been made on the design of a new center, Dixson said the city had been in discussions with the chamber on an interpretive center on the top floor of a two-story building and level with Soldotna Creek Park. The chamber of commerce would operate out of the lower floor of the building.
It’s not clear how far along in the building planning process the chamber has gotten, Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Kapp did not return calls for comment as of press time.
The parcel, formerly known as the Davis Block property, sits at the end of an extension of Birch Lane in Soldotna which crosses the Sterling Highway before losing elevation and dead ending on the banks of the Kenai River.
“From the city’s standpoint, we see a facility — a visitors facility next to Soldotna Creek Park — as synergy,” Dixson said. “Pepole can visit the park, come over to the visitor’s center which would have educational materials as well. We see it as something that would benefit the tourists in the city and there’s also been discussion about possibly having this facility have a restaurant or coffee shop.”
Dixson said without the chamber staff pushing to get the center built, it would likely not be completed quickly by the city.
“A lot of people think that this is something that benefits the Chamber of Commerce only and not the city, but we see it as something that benefits the city that we’re thankful that the chamber is willing to take on because, quite frankly, we don’t have the resources to do that,” he said.
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