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Soldotna's riverfront project gets the green light

Sabine Poux

During the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District’s Industry Outlook Forum late last month, the city gave an update on its vision to bring a multi-use thoroughfare downtown. The long-awaited project stems from the city's 2015 Downtown Improvement Plan, which had the goal to “bring Soldotna to the river.”

The project site is located on 85 acres between Soldotna Creek Park and the David Douthit Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Kenai River. In 2022, the city received a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to design a plan for the revamp. The plan got the green light in February and is currently seeking an implementation manager.

John Czarnezki is Soldotna’s director of planning and economic development. He says before construction can begin, the city needs to update street and maintenance codes and conduct feasibility studies.

“There’s a lot of things that are going to be happening that aren’t necessarily brick and mortar," Czarnezki said. "I would say that probably the most exciting thing is that we’ll look at where we have existing city infrastructure and city land that we might be able to make some advances.”

The project will add multi-use streets to the area, connecting the Sterling Highway to new parks, businesses and homes the project will bring. It’ll also make current roads, like Binkley Street and Kobuk Street, more walkable to the downtown area.

Additionally, the project will create a public gathering area, similar to Soldotna Creek Park. Trails and boardwalks will connect both parks to the river and the rest of the development. The gathering area will be adjacent to one of the new roads and be a stone's throw from new potential bars and restaurants.

“What we want to do is create land uses that are going to attract private investment and provide community benefits," Czarnezki said. "The main thing is that it would offer a place for people to gather but just in a different location with a different feeling and with a slightly different purpose, in that it would also serve businesses that would be located in that same area.”

One feature of the project could bring a public market to an underutilized area adjacent to Soldotna Creek Park. The three-story building would have meeting rooms, offices, common areas and spaces to support small businesses or restaurants. It’ll also sport scenic views of the Kenai River.

Czarnezki says over 20 years the project will cost about $200 million to construct but should generate nearly $300 million for the local economy.

“The major finding was that for every one dollar the city spends on construction of infrastructure, it yields an additional $5.30 in development," he said. "This really is pretty powerful as far as economic stimulus, this investment that the city potentially can make. It really can leverage additional funds and other investments.” 

Czarnezki says the revamp should create over 2,000 jobs and generate over $100 million in labor income. Before construction of the project can take place, it first needs management staffing and an oversight committee.

“My favorite aspect is generally the fact that it moves Soldotna away from a car-centric downtown to one that’s more pedestrian-oriented where people can walk around, go from shop to shop, can take the dogs for a walk and stop for a coffee, can get dinner or some entertainment all within a walkable environment where people feel comfortable and safe," Czarnezki said. "It’ll be a transformation for Soldotna in that sense.” 

Czarnezki says the redevelopment project will create Alaska’s first riverfront downtown. For more information about the Soldotna riverfront redevelopment project, visit the project's website.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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