With public input, Soldotna moves forward on riverfront project
Ninety-four percent of participants in a open house said they wanted a better walking or biking option in Soldotna’s downtown.
That was one of the findings from a public engagement event hosted by the city last month, which also saw popular support for more restaurants and bars along the section of Kenai River that runs through town.
John Czarnezki, the city’s director of economic development and planning, said that’s all information the city will take into account as it builds a master plan for its riverfront development project.
The idea is to build a more walkable downtown along the Kenai riverfront in Soldotna — specifically, the 85 acres between Soldotna Creek Park and the David Douthit Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Last year, the City of Soldotna got a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to turn that plan into a reality. It hired a Portland, Ore.-based consultant to coordinate the project.
Czarnezki said right now, the city’s in the process of building out its vision. That’s why it held the public input session in January, and why it plans to hold another one in two months.
But he said there’s also a lot of work going on behind the scenes.
The city’s getting an environmental analysis on a property next to the bridge, which used to be a laundromat and is on a state hazardous waste list. Czarnezki said they’re figuring out what the state has found there and what the city can do to redevelop that area.
“And then the other thing we’re doing is a market analysis,” he said. “We’re trying to identify, what are the uses that are needed in Soldotna?”
He said they’ll look to see what people are shopping for online or in other cities on the peninsula, for example, to determine whether there are certain gaps in Soldotna that could be filled by new local businesses.
One challenge people identified at the last meeting is the mosaic of property ownership along the river. While some parcels are already owned by the city, others are owned by private landowners.
Czarnezki said the city has had one-on-one conversations with some of them about its plans, and said he’s now putting together the results of the engagement session to bring to those who couldn’t attend.
“So we want to maintain contact with them and share with them what’s happening in the process and encourage them to participate in the process,” he said.
Czarnezki said there will be another chance to weigh in on the plan at another session in April. The city hopes to have a master plan by the end of November.
You can find the timeline here.