A big step in expanding the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex will be introduced at this week’s city council meeting. A proposed addition of a 42,000 square foot fieldhouse has been in the works for several year. But the city will have to take on some debt if it wants to see the project completed.
City manager Stephanie Queen says remodeling and expanding the sports center was one of the first issues she was involved in.
“One of the first meetings I ever attended as a city employee back in 2008-2009 timeframe was a meeting of a group of folks looking at the possibility of an indoor turf fieldhouse. That effort was led by the borough at the time. I think this is a project our community has identified and put on our wish list for quite a long time.”
But wishes like this don’t come cheap. Estimated cost of the fieldhouse is $11.8 million. In the past, a big capital project like this might have had a little help from the state legislature. But those days are gone, so communities have to look for grants and other ways to finance such plans.
Financing for this will likely be up to voters next spring. An ordinance will be introduced at Wednesday night’s meeting that would authorize issuing $10 million in general obligation bonds to pay for the fieldhouse. A special election would be held in March. Queen says the bonds would be paid back by using revenue from a bump in city sales tax, from three to 3.5 percent.
“We arrived at the concept of debt, which is not something the city of Soldotna has done much of. But in this case, we’ve got a healthy fund balance and it’s being invested and returning rates of return higher than the cost of borrowing money currently. So, if we go out on the bond market, we might expect to borrow the $10 million for somewhere in the range of 3.5 to four percent and our investments are doing much better than that.”
Along the way, a fair bit of flexibility was built into the planning to accommodate whatever financing options would be available. The fieldhouse won’t have a full, regulation size football or soccer field. But Queen says that doesn’t mean regional or even statewide events can’t be held there. Summer camps, expos and other big events are expected to make up the lion’s share of the revenue the fieldhouse will bring in.
“I can picture this being a great facility to host a large, regional state wrestling tournament. And certainly that added benefit of having families come down from Anchorage or the Valley and stay in our community for a few days will be something that’s good for Soldotna and our area. But it’s difficult for us to quantify. I don’t think it’s one of the main selling features of this project, but I think it’s an added benefit that we would expect to see.”
As proposed, the main playing area of the fieldhouse will be 25,000 square feet, with another 10,000 square feet of space underneath the overhead running track. It will also include removable turf and dividers so multiple activities can go on at once. And of course there will be locker rooms, restrooms and a general room for smaller events.
The city expects the facility to run a deficit, but to keep that to a minimum, user fees will cover much of cost from track users and soccer leagues and the ever-popular pickleball. A public hearing on the ordinance to send the bond question to voters is scheduled for December 12.