Sports center spectator limit remains at 80

Oct 15, 2020

The spectator limit at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex will remain at 80 for now, with the council intending to reevaluate that limit once high school hockey is allowed to begin.
Credit City of Soldotna

Spectator capacity at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex will remain at 80 for the time being. The Soldotna City Council discussed increasing that limit in a work session Wednesday but ended up not taking action on the matter during the council meeting.

High school hockey and other winter sports have been postponed and the Kenai River Brown Bears Junior A hockey team is starting its season in Minnesota. The soonest a decision will be made whether to move to Soldotna will be December.

The youth Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association is on the ice but the most spectators they tend to get for games is 40 to 60 people. The COVID-19 risk level on the central Kenai Peninsula is currently high. Given all that, Council Member Justin Ruffridge advocated holding off on making changes.

“I don’t necessarily want to rush making decisions while things are in a very difficult situation,” Ruffridge said. “… I think this would be a pertinent thing to maybe let sit as is for the time being. Knowing it’s going to be something that we have to address prior to anything occurring, once we hear if high school hockey is coming back.”

The city administration and council discussed raising spectator capacity to various levels, from 160 to 300 or 500. The sports center has a spectator capacity of 3,500 but if figuring 6 feet of social distance per spectator, the bleachers would hold 311. With the mezzanine, front lobby and other areas people tend to congregate, that limit goes up to 545.

Some council members were leery of changing admittance levels multiple times, which creates confusion. Council Member Jordan Chilson wanted admittance linked to COVID risk levels.

“I think it’s really important that we tie these levels to the particular colors we’re at,” Chilson said. “So I would lean toward 80 for red, 300 for green now. Maybe in 30 days we come back and we look at increasing that to 160 red maybe 400, 600 for the green, accordingly. I also think it’s important that we follow the lead of all the other institutions that are requiring masks for safety in the larger numbers.”

KPHA and the Alaska School Activities Association require masks of spectators. Many arenas in the state require masks, including the Dipper in Fairbanks, the McDonald in Eagle River and the Subway Center in Anchorage.

Tami Miller, speaking for KPHA, asked the council to either not set a spectator limit or make it as high as possible.

“The kids really need their sports right now. They’re really suffering. Their mental health is suffering dramatically. I have a 15-year-old — I’m almost getting emotional even talking about it because it’s very, very hard. And the decisions those of you in power make are affecting the kids a lot,” Miller said.

She cautioned the council from instituting restrictions.

“I’m not sure if any of you have been to Anchorage lately but it’s kind of like a little Nazi Germany. Everywhere you go, you’re being monitored, you’re being told you can’t do that. Restaurants are at 50 percent capacity. It’s really miserable to go there. I used to love going to Anchorage. I hate it now,” Miller said. “I don’t want to see the city of Soldotna or the peninsula become like that. People down here appreciate that we are having our freedoms and that we’re not being dictated to.”

Mayor-elect Paul Whitney motioned to increase the spectator limit to 160 but his motion did not get a second. The council will address the matter in the future.