Project Manager Jason Graf points to a map while answering questions from attendees on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Project Manager Jason Graf points to a map while answering questions from attendees on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna leaders, community weigh in on future of riverfront

‘The sky’s the limit’

Walkability between Kenai River Brewing and Soldotna Creek Park, commerce “hubs” at Kobuk Street and Binkley Street and better use of city land were all parts of a vision for a redeveloped commercial center in Soldotna that was presented to community members at several events this week.

The City of Soldotna received last summer a $360,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Agency to begin planning efforts on the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment project, which would redevelop 85 acres of land between the Sterling Highway and the Kenai River in Soldotna.

Presentations and listening sessions were given to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, the general public, and the Soldotna City Council, and were facilitated by First Forty Feet, an urban design and planning firm out of Portland that the City of Soldotna contracted to oversee the project. The firm is scheduled to present a master plan for development to the city council in November.

The firm said creating a “one-of-a-kind” riverfront experience, incorporating the Kenai River with downtown Soldotna, identifying infrastructure needed to support redevelopment and exploring strategies for funding and implementation are all objectives of their work.

Project Manager Jason Graf presented to a packed room at Wednesday’s meeting of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, where attendees were encouraged to share their ideas and reactions via interactive software. Graf similarly solicited public input at a listening session held at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Thursday.

Attendees at the Thursday listening session said they were proud of Soldotna for its outdoor recreation, friendliness and “small town charm.” They expressed a desire for more dining options, bike paths and “an actual downtown.” When asked to rank their desires for a downtown experience, a walkable main street was the top response.

The lack of pedestrian crossings and the lack of a buffer between sidewalks and the roadway were the top responses when attendees were asked to rate different safety and accessibility measures of the Sterling Highway. Attendees said they were excited about the opportunity to connect the community, boost public events, expand restaurants and shops and “(retake) the waterfront.”

At a work session immediately before Wednesday’s meeting of the Soldotna City Council, council members received their own presentation from First Forty Feet and were able to provide input to and ask questions of the project leaders. Soldotna Vice Mayor Lisa Parker, for example, suggested renaming the firm’s proposed hub at 47th Street/Pioneer Street near Walgreens to something that residents may be more familiar with.

“It’s not something that’s common in this community,” Parker said of 47th Street. “ … As we look at hubs, we might want to look at renaming that hub.”

When asked by council members what kind of outreach First Forty Feet had done with private property owners in the project area, Graf said the firm has been making a lot of one-on-one-calls to gauge interest in redevelopment. Graf said that while people have generally been supportive of exploring what redevelopment may look like, there’s also interest in selling the land outright to the city.

“Most people are willing to be a part of that, like they’re saying, ‘Yes, you can look at redevelopment on my property,’” Graf said. “ … Are there people willing and ready to redevelop at this point? We’re not hearing that. What we’re hearing more is, ‘If you’d like to cut a check, I would love to sell this property or group of properties.’”

Council member Dan Nelson encouraged the firm to think big as they prepare their master plan.

“My recommendation to you, coming in as the outside consulting group, is to go wild,” Nelson said. “All I’m saying is the sky’s the limit because I think we’ve had a very, very good track record through some of our plans and other things.”

Between now and when First Forty Feet plans to present a development scenario, the firm will hold a second round of public engagement opportunities. The city’s Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment project website can be accessed at soldotnariverfront.org.

Reach reporters Ashlyn O’Hara and Jacob Dye at news@peninsulaclarion.com.

Soldotna City Council members listen to a presentation from project leaders on the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Project during a council work session on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna City Council members listen to a presentation from project leaders on the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Project during a council work session on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A full map of the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Plan, with different hubs of activity identified, is shown off on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A full map of the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Plan, with different hubs of activity identified, is shown off on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Project Manager Jason Graf points to a map while answering questions from attendees on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Project Manager Jason Graf points to a map while answering questions from attendees on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A young girl is lifted to place a sticker indicating her preference on a concept board on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A young girl is lifted to place a sticker indicating her preference on a concept board on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees examine concept boards on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees examine concept boards on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Soldotna Riverfront Redevelopment Open House at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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