Rewind several decades. Kenai’s waterfront was buzzing with business.
“There’s always been a lot of activity down there," said John Williams, Kenai mayor from 1986 to 2004.
He said the cannery scene by the Kenai Dock has changed since then as the commercial fishing presence has declined. Now, there’s just one processor there.
“Besides just the canneries, we used to have an array of other things going on," he said. "At one time we had not only the two canneries, but we also had a fish pickup area that belonged to Marvin Dragseth. There was a fellow that ran a big business of bringing things up from Seattle, everything from furniture to vegetables.”
The city of Kenai wants to bring more businesses to the waterfront — in particular, 160 acres along Bridge Access Road, from the Kenai Dock to Millenium Square. It plans on contracting a company to do a feasibility study.
"We need to look at the zoning of the area to determine whether or not the zoning is appropriate for the type of development the community wants," said City Manager Paul Ostrander. "Are there regulations in place that potentially should be changed to incentivize that type of development?”
He said he also wants to look at whether the city could form any public-private partnerships to bring new businesses or tourist attractions to the waterfront.
The area at hand includes 10 city lots and 14 private lots, all zoned heavy industrial.
Councilwoman Teea Winger said she worries about the city coming up with a vision for private land. She said she’s heard concerns from constituents about government overreach.
“To study and tell them, ultimately, ‘This is our vision for your land and your business’ — I don't see that going over very well with a lot of people," she said.
Councilman Bob Molloy said private property owners don’t have to participate if they don’t like the ideas the city proposes.
"I kind of see this as seed money, to get consultants to help with a lot of the macro look and also the micro look," he said.
Williams said a lot of the businesses that were on the waterfront in the 70s and 80s have since moved inland. He said before anything happens there, the city has to sort out another big project.
"We gotta get that bluff erosion under control," he said.
The city council voted to put aside $95,000 for the study. Winger was the only council member who voted against it.