City Manager Paul Ostrander gave the council an overview after his first year overseeing Kenai’s busiest three weeks of the year in July. The city's new dipnet app turned out to be the star of the show, as far as the council was concerned.
Much like the fish in 2017, Ostrander said the big pulse of emails and phone calls and headaches never really showed up.
“As I’ve told the council before, when I initially took this job, I thought that from the 10th to the 31st of July was going to be all-consuming for me and I was going to be dealing with daily issues and problems. And once we started, I realized that things were so well run in the city by now, it was very simple for me.”
He credited that simplicity to the various refinements his predecessor, the late Rick Koch, and city staff have developed over the years.
More recently, that’s meant technology, like adding credit card machines at the city’s fee shacks on the beaches. This year, it meant a dipnet app, developed by the city’s main tech guy, Dan Castimore. It proved to be a valuable safety tool, getting mass notifications out to the beach in an instant. The council had no shortage of glowing things to say about the app’s popular live webcams, fishing updates and space for ad sales.
The report says that was a major goal — promoting Kenai businesses to try and reel in more of those dipnet dollars. So, 2017 was kind of the beta version. A test run. And the city has already brought in the Kenai Chamber of Commerce to take over the marketing.
“Last year, I believe we had four or five folks who advertised on the dipnet app. So we recognized that it was an opportunity, just didn’t have enough time to put it in place. So with the relationship we have with the chamber, I think next year you’ll see that number grow substantially," Ostrander said.
But if that means growing the number of visitors, which is to say more traffic on the roads and longer lines at the store, will it raise the ire of the locals? Ostrander says the city is aware of those concerns.
“The main thing the city can do to help out in that regard is continuing to help support and run the fishery as efficiently as possible so we don’t have issues with traffic control on Bridge Access (road), or Cannery Road or on Spruce Street; trying to run it as efficiently as possible so that, really, the residents don’t see or feel the impacts as much as they would if we didn’t provide that level of support.”
An ongoing project to help with some of those traffic concerns will see more work done next year. The city cleaned up access to the south beach in 2016. This year, the nearby Dragseth Mansion was sold. Ostrander told the council that money from that sale will go toward improvements, hopefully, on both sides of the Kenai River, if the city can apply the intended grant.
“The language of that grant right now specifically says that it will be used for south beach improvements. I’m working with the state right now to get that language changed so that we could potentially apply some of those improvements to the north beach. I think it serves the participants of the fishery better and I also think that it serves the city better just simply because it is so much more heavily utilized than the south beach.”
Overall, the city came in under budget for the 2017 dipnet season by about $64,000, drawing revenues of more than half a million dollars. That leaves the city’s personal-use fishery fund at almost $275,000, up from less than $30,000 just four years ago.