Soldotna Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis, right, answers questions from Jeff Dolifka, left, regarding the Soldotna Field House on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis, right, answers questions from Jeff Dolifka, left, regarding the Soldotna Field House on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Supporters look to boost field house project ahead of vote

A different bond proposition to fund the field house failed by 18 votes

Supporters of the Soldotna Field House project gathered Tuesday in the Soldotna Public Library with city and other community leaders to talk about ways to boost the project leading up to the Oct. 4 election. Soldotna City Council members voted this summer to put a bond proposition on this year’s municipal ballot.

Tuesday’s meeting was held in a question and answer format and was moderated by Jeff Dolifka. There to answer questions on behalf of the City of Soldotna were City Manager Stephanie Queen, Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis, Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael and Assistant Director Joel Todd.

Soldotna voters will decide in October whether or not to give the city permission to incur up to $15 million in debt and issue general obligation bonds for the construction of a field house. That facility, which would be located adjacent and connected to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, would be about 42,000 square feet in size and would accommodate multiple types of indoor recreation.

If completed, the field house would feature a 215-foot-by-115-foot play area with removable turf that would allow for soccer, football and batting cages. The sports court could host wrestling, volleyball and roller derby. The three-lane track on the second floor would be available for walkers and runners.

In response to a question about what user groups would be given priority to use the facility, Todd said the goal is to have the building be “community first.” That means being available for people who want to play pickup basketball or other non-professional sports. Still, the ability of the facility to accommodate multiple groups at once, Todd said, is one of its assets.

In all, the field house project is expected to cost around $19.54 million, an increase from the $18.7 million estimate generated the last time the city considered the project. A different bond proposition to fund the field house failed during a special election in March 2019 by 18 votes.

The city expects the field house would cost about $291,000 to operate annually and bring in about $246,000 annually in new revenue. That doesn’t include, supporters say, the local economic activity that would be generated by people visiting the field house from outside of the city.

“We do not expect the Field House to ‘pay for itself,’ but it will come close, therefor having a minimal impact on the City’s annual operating budget,” a city project information sheet says.

City leaders said Tuesday that a lot has changed since voters last considered the field house. City sales tax revenue is up for one, and no bump is being proposed to the city’s sales or property taxes as part of the project. The city has previously proposed a half-percent bump to the city’s sales tax rate for the field house.

Queen told attendees that the city is in a good financial position to take on the project, and that the goal is to rigorously pursue grant opportunities to bring down the amount of debt the city ultimately incurs. The search for grant money, city leaders said, has already started.

“Our goal is to not take out $15 million in bonds,” Queen said. “We’d like to take out much less than that. But, at $15 million, we felt confident we could deliver a fully funded project with the remaining funds that the city already has in savings (and) some additional grants we can access.”

Queen said that while she cannot say what city council members will do years into the future, there are currently “no plans” to change the city’s property or sales taxes, for the project or otherwise. She pointed out that the City of Soldotna has not, since the early 1980s, increased either its 0.5 mill rate or its 3% sales tax.

Kornelis said that because design work for the facility is already completed, construction on the field house could begin as early as next summer if voters approve the proposition in October. Construction is expected to take about 18 months, but could be closer to two years depending on construction seasons, he said.

“It’s not a complex project,” Kornelis said.

More information about the Soldotna Field House project can be found at soldotnafieldhouse.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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