Voters in the city of Soldotna will decide in March whether they want to take on some debt to pay for a new field house next to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The city council approved the ordinance putting the issue on the ballot at its meeting this week, and heard plenty of testimony from the public, mostly in favor of the $11.8 million project.
“We are very much in support of the fieldhouse in Soldotna. It would be put to great use not only for the youth in our community, which of course is important, but (also) local adults, especially our aging population, to have a place to go in winter time. It would be much more accessible, much easier to use for everybody," said Sarah Beiber, president of the Kenai Peninsula Pop Warner football and vice president Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club.
The proposed 42,000 square foot facility would have a turf field, but also be adaptable for basketball and other sports, like wrestling.
Susan Strasbaugh, President, Soldotna Whalers wrestling club
“...It’s super challenging to find a practice location. We’re fighting every single year. We’ve tried to have our wrestling tournament at the ice rink and are denied of that, so we really have nowhere to go and I think (the fieldhouse) is a positive thing for the community," said Susan Strasbaugh, president of the Soldotna Whalers wrestling club.
But that positivity comes at a cost. The vote in March will be on $10 million in bonds, to be repaid with revenues from a bump in sales tax of one-half percent, to 3.5 percent. There was little opposition to the general idea of an expanded facility for year-round, indoor activities. But not everyone agreed with the scope of this plan.
“I think if you look at the issue of the Soldotna sports center hockey rink itself, and the money that it loses annually, and what this facility could do to help that be less in the red, (it’s) not been addressed," Vince Rutherford told the council. "You have a 2,000 seat arena and the only people who get to use it as an arena are the (Kenai River) Brown Bears.”
The new fieldhouse won’t be a money maker for the city. It’s expected to cost somewhere north of $40,000 annually even with all the pay-as-you-go activities that are planned. But Mayor Nels Anderson says he doesn’t have a problem with that.
“If you look at these types of facilities across the country, none of them break even. They all have to be subsidized a little bit. And as far as the city of Soldotna is concerned, that subsidy is well worth it, in terms of what the community benefits from.”
The ordinance passed with a unanimous vote, as did two related matters that will pay for the special election at a cost of $7,800. The special election will be March 5th.