Thursday, April 19, 2012

May Day Vote Update

Addendum: The Redoubt Reporter article about the Hutchings Property and Chamber of Commerce Building is worth reading.

After talking to some folks in the know, I am less inclined to believe that a sweetheart deal was made between the City of Soldotna, the Chamber of Commerce and the Hutchings family for the purchase of the dealership building.

When the Hutchings property came up for sale and the Chamber decided that this might be a good place to expand, they approached the city of Soldotna with the idea of buying it.  The original asking price was beyond what the council and mayor could support.  The next step gets a little fuzzy, but from what I understand, the Hutchings family offered the property in the range of the $2.1 million that the city eventually agreed to accept with voter consent.

Understandably so, when a small town negotiates for property, it is difficult to maintain transparency but not tip off a potential seller what the maximum amount the buyer (in this case the city) is willing to spend.

What has been lost on the City (the council and the mayor) and the Chamber, is that in their zeal to acquire the Hutchings building, perhaps there were some missteps.

1) Should another appraisal have been done considering the price difference between the borough assessment and the only appraisal actually done (which was $2.8 million, pretty much exactly the original price that the Hutchings family wanted)?

2) The city engineer did an estimate of how much it would cost to bring the building up to code, but this wasn't finished until 3 weeks ago.  If the Hutchings building has been considered for at least a year and half, wouldn't this have been good info to have a while ago? Did this repair estimate come before the price of purchase was fixed?  I don't know.

3) I still have had no official explanation of why there is a need of a special election.  While the building may have been considered for a while, movement on it didn't happen until recently.  Is there a bank foreclosing? Not to be too callous, but if this is the case, the city might have been able to get the building for a lower price from either the Hutchings or from the bank.  Is there another potential buyer? Well, maybe having another business come to Soldotna is better than having some commercial property taken off of the market.  It does seem that the hurried special election makes for a low voter turnout and keeps people from getting all of the information needed to make an informed decision.

4) How serious have the city and the chamber really been to find a new site?  Didn't the chamber sell some land over by Good Time Charlie's not too long ago?  Heck, what about just buying Good Time Charlie's - it's the perfect location for the VC?  Not too long ago, the Mullins family was looking at selling the bookstore property  - that could be a good site and there's already a traffic light there. A little while ago, the former Nightwatch/Tides Restaurant was sold.  The building next to Beemans is vacant.  For that matter, why not figure out how to better use the Sports Center?  It is certainly big enough for a convention and visitor center, there's plenty of parking and it's in a nice setting. The 2.8 million that the city (and including the $250K the chamber has offered to kick in) is going to spend on the Hutchings building can buy and build/remodel a lot. At the very least, the city should have designed what it wanted, got some figures, and with that ballpark figure, see what could be bought and remodeled for an equivalent price.  If there was nothing, maybe put the plans before the voters and build something new.

While I am not convinced that the city has made the best deal, I am more comfortable with the knowledge that it wasn't a back-door deal.  After the financial fiasco of the Sports Center (that costs the city around $1000 a day in lost revenues), we should be careful how we spend our money.

So, for me, the decision on how to vote comes down to weighing the benefits of what we will get: a spiffy hall that can double as the visitor center and as a cultural/meeting center vs, well, not having a cultural/meeting center at this time.

By the way, if there are CoC folks reading this, your newsletter describing fallout for a NO vote are all kind of lame.  Not one fact at all and maybe a bit of misinformation:

No change..?  Well, sometimes no change is good.
No future expansion of a community conference center..? Really,  if we don't buy this now, like never in a million years will be able to buy, remodel or build something?
No revitalization of the proposed property..? Again, like never in a million years?
No additional parking and infrastructure at the Soldotna Creek Park? Well, shuttle buses and legs still are an option.  When the traffic light is put in, that will open up parking on Birch St. What more infrastructure is needed at the park?

Actually,  a No vote just means 
1) That the city doesn't spend upwards of $2.8 million at this time.
2) The CoC deals with the small space and access issues (did anyone ask DOT to take the VC into consideration when it redid that intersection?  A traffic circle might have been the best option). 
3) If the city and CoC wants a convention/cultural center, that it goes through a more rigorous public process.

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