Monday, April 16, 2012

May Day, May Day - Corporate Welfare in SOLdotna Day?

There's a special election on May 1.  We SOLdotnans get to vote to give the city permission to buy the Hutchings' dealership on the Sterling Hwy for $2.1 million.  If we vote to buy the property, the SOldotna Visitor center will be moved from the cabin on south side of the bridge to the dealership.

Above and beyond the price of purchase, the city engineer did an analysis of estimated costs to bring the building up to code, to fix some things that are needing repaired, and to ready the building for occupancy.  That figure comes in around $570K for the upper estimate just to bring the building up to code. That does not include up to $170K more to put in a sprinkler system and to cover unknown problems that might come up.  The total price could be in the neighborhood $2.8 million.  The Chamber of Commerce says that they will pay up to $250K for repairs needed for occupancy.

Some things to consider.

1) The borough assessment for the property is $1.4 million.  Should we be paying almost a million dollars more than assessment for a building that could need $3/4 million dollars in repairs?  To be fair, a private company appraised the value of the property to be close to the selling price.  Does that mean that I should expect to sell my house in Soldotna for 50% more than the borough assesment? Maybe we need another couple of opinions.  Are there are other interested buyers?  Hutchings is a failed business, we are essentially bailing them out of that business.  If we wanted this property, wouldn't it be a better business practice to offer something below borough appraisal and see what happens?

2) Why are we voting on this so soon?  Shouldn't there be some public question and answer sessions town hall style meetings so the public can become more informed?  We have some other elections coming up soon (maybe you've heard that there's a presidential race this fall), why not schedule the vote during an already scheduled voting session?  Just how much is it going to cost to hold the special election? Having a special election in early May guarantees a low voter turnout and with a handful of folks going to the polls, it's much easier to sway the results.

3) What is the plan for the existing Visitor Center property?  It's prime river-front/highway property and the borough assessment is about $390K.  Will that property be sold (for a million dollars more than the borough assessment?) and the funds used to offset the purchase price of the Hutchings property? Is there already a potential buyer?

4)There are advantages to relocating the Visitor Center to the center of town - more visibility and proximity to the Soldotna Creek Park, but the Hutchings site poses just as many access problems as the current site.  Those exiting the site and wishing to turn south will have difficulties crossing the northbound traffic lanes in the summer.

5)The Hutchings building does offer some potential benefits aside from an expanded visitors' center. It's large enough to double as an arts and cultural showcase.

The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, the beneficiaries of the move,  will offer an overview of this proposal tomorrow (Tuesday April 17) at noon at Frosos.  Work prevents me from showing up, but if you are at all concerned, consider attending.

The Chamber has an info sheet about the purchase buried on their website.  You can get see it by clicking here.


Wrip Van Whinkle said...

Oh come on. You are supposed to be a political junkie. The appropriate title isn't corporate welfare, but political welfare for those who seek higher office.

Why would the City of SOLdotna, through the lift of the current administration, want to purchase property from the Hutchings on a fast track deal, with a special election vote in May, before the summer primaries in an election year???

This is worthy of the Dog Gone News, brought to you by... and the City of SOLdotna.

FromSOLwithLOVE said...

Its really too bad that your work will prevented you from attending the meeting about this project. Perhaps the information gathered there would have ensured a factual rant.

Souldotna said...

Hey there, FSwL,

Are you saying that my facts are wrong? Which ones? I'd be happy to correct any wrong info that I have. I got all of the facts and figures from the City of Soldotna site and the KPB web site.

I do like my rants to be factual!


FromSOLwithLOVE said...

There are some factual discrepancies. The price tag for renovations is $350-550K, which is a VERY large range and not quite the $650K you quoted. Also, the city is not bailing the Hutchings out. It is unfortunate that the land owner happens to be so unpopular in many circles, but that is purely circumstantial. It is the property itself that makes it ideal. Also, traffic issues will be avoided with the addition of the traffic light at Birch street.

You yourself have the Envision 2030 Plan as one of The Good in Soldotna, which shows the following:

"4. Investigate the potential for a Convention Center to draw visitors throughout the year and provide meeting facilities for local events and organizations.
a. Work with the Visitor Center and Chamber of Commerce to evaluate the feasibility of a convention center.
b. Evaluate potential locations for a convention center to
ensure that its location supports local retail and lodging
businesses and has convenient pedestrian connections to
businesses and the river."

You seem to also be a fan of the arts and culture, which would also benefit from an expanded Visitor's Center and potential Convention Center. With the size of the current center, its not possible.

As the intelligent and forward thinking person I believe you are, I wonder why you would be against giving Soldotna a much needed facelift. This is an issue that ought not be taken lightly, so I do appreciate you bringing it up in a more adept and effective way than say, Sound Off. This is a once in a life time opportunity for this community to show itself off.

Just out of curiosity, I wonder too, why you still live here if everyone's so SOL?

P.S. The current Visitor's Center isn't in a log cabin ;)

Souldotna said...


According to the estimates provided by the city engineer, the ball park figure is $360K - $570K range just to bring it up to code. That doesn't include the $120K - $170K estimate for a sprinkler system and unforeseen costs. It's the rare government project that comes in under budget. Shouldn't people be prepared for the worst? So, the range I posted was approximately $170K below the potential repair costs. I thought I was being a bit rosy in my original post. I will change the figure upwards in my original post just to get a more accurate estimate out there.

I agree that it makes sense to move the VC to a better location, and in the original post I do say that. Um, I think that one back-fired on you.

You make a good point about an art and cultural possibilities at the Hutchings location. Voters should take that into consideration when they decide. I'll also include that info in the main section

One reason given to move the center from the current location is the problem with exiting traffic. The Hutchings site also poses a similar problem. That needs to be addressed, or the traffic issue should not be included as reason to move as the new site doesn't really resolve the issue.

If their property is about to be foreclosed or taken over by creditors (and that being a reason to have the special election rather than wait until a scheduled one), an argument could be made that this deal is indeed bailing the Hutchings out of a financial bind. I have nothing personally against the Hutchings and I know that they've done their part in making Soldotna grow. I do know that they've been big time supporters of the Republican Party. You know, the party that is against all gov't bailouts. The ones that say businesses should live and die by the free market. The party of No. The party that says the gov't should just do the basics. Well, that is unless a republican will make/recoup some money out of the deal. OK, that was a smarmy comment and I won't put that in the main section. Personally, I think all decisions, including this one, should be based on the merits.

For the most part, I do like living in Soldotna - I wouldn't write this blog otherwise. It's my attempt to offer what I hope is a reasoned view from an alternative perspective.


FromSOLwithLOVE said...

Oh disappoint me! I honestly thought that we could have a intelligent conversation based on facts and opinions made with concrete evidence. To turn this into a political conspiracy theory calling out a specific party is well....I think beneath you. Maybe I'm wrong.

Again, this has nothing to do with the Hutchings financial situation. It is about the VC needing a new home, Soldotna needing a facelift, community center, convention center, this centrally located piece of property being for sale, and the upgrade to our arts and cultural community for residents as well as visitors.

I do want to bring up the dollar figures again. I'm sure as you look at the estimate and attached report you see that the current property is equipped with a sprinkler system, as well as a firewall. The upgrade to the sprinkler system would come, should the building use change to include an occupancy greater than 300. Which, I hope would be the case, as I feel this community is in desperate need of a first class conference center. So, the additional costs would come once the convention center phases come into play, years down the road. Once that happens, grant monies would be applied for and used for that upgrade.

As you stated, you do agree that the VC should be moved (you know, in response to the comment that backfired on me) so why would dollars be an issue? Surely purchasing another viable piece of property of over 3 acres, then building from scratch would be much more.

P.S. I do like to fancy myself a liberal, and not an evil soul sucking Republican. They're just the worst!

Souldotna said...

Oh, so if I disagree with you, it is no longer an intelligent conversation? Isn't that a bit controlling?

And do you even know that I disagree with you? I've not posted anywhere about how I am going to vote on the issue. I'd rather be informed of everything before I make a decision and I hope that you've noticed the question marks by the things I don't know for sure.

If you are not aware that many people in the community think that this might be some sweetheart deal, you need to get out more often. Maybe it isn't, but because the city and chamber really haven't got the info out to the public, people tend to draw their own conclusions, even if the conclusions are not accurate. Why is there a need for a special election? Why does this have to be decided so soon before questions are answered? Has the city or chamber provided an online fact sheet about what the pros and cons might be? It seems like I am the only one doing this service.

Those who want this sale should be able to convince voters that this is a good idea by being honest - and being honest doesn't include withholding information. Don't hide or sugar coat figures.

If the city and chamber don't want people to be suspicious, get ALL of the info out. Even the stuff that might seem a bit embarrassing.

If you want an intelligent conversation don't insult mine by hiding the obvious or being indignant that I have questions.

Like it or not, this sale does have a lot to do with the Hutchings financial situation. If business was good for them, either the selling price would be higher, or the property wouldn't be for sale.

But by not recognizing that simple fact, it shows that you are either naive or hoping the public is brain dead. Neither is the case. People distrust government when government isn't transparent. I think it is the duty of the city and the chamber to show that this deal is on the up and up. I would like to think that it is, but as Ronald Reagan said, Trust, but verify.

FromSOLwithLOVE said...

I absolutely do not imply that this is not an intelligent conversation because you "disagree". I was disappointed because the fact that the Hutchings are Republican is somehow supposed to be taken into consideration. If they were Democrat or Libertarian would that make a difference?? If it were a non profit selling the property, that would make it okay??? Would you not buy a great house, just because of who owns it? The fact is, that this property is available and perfect for this endeavor.

Perhaps I am a bit Pollyanna in my thinking, however I do not believe that this is simply to bail the Hutchings out. Nor do I believe that there are ulterior motives at play. Believe it or not I do actually get out. I just choose not to believe that everything the government does is for evil. I choose not to fall for the Sound Off rhetoric and scare tactics spouted by "community minded" folk.

Were you aware that the VC has been looking to relocate for over 10 years?? Did you know that the Hutchings property has been discussed for 2 because expanding at the current location presents a myriad of problems? This is not a new issue. Simply because people don't have all the information does not mean it doesn't exist. There is additional information available on the Chamber's website and there was a fact sheet given out by the City yesterday at the Chamber meeting. While not a Pro and Con side by side analysis, they are informative.

What are the city and chamber sugarcoating??? What are they hiding that is embarrassing?? What additional information is not out?? Again, costs to build from scratch or at a different visible location would be higher, if not the same.

No, you have not said how you are planning to vote. That was wholly an assumption on my part, but to say your editorial was objective would be going a bit far, don't you think?

I'm all for your efforts to get the truth out there!!! Believe me it is just as important to me as it is to you. It is not my intention to belittle, anger or insult you. I am simply trying show that this could really be a positive thing for the community and try to get you to vote yes.

Unknown said...

I do believe the facts are posted on both the Soldotna Chamber and the City of Soldotna websites.

I am enjoying the banter!

Souldotna said...

Hey there - Where is the info posted on either the CoC or City site. Just looked and found nothing, but I could have missed it?

Janet Pope said...

For the facts on the proposed property... Sure wish you had taken the time to come to the meeting yesterday so your questions and misinformation could be addressed...

Souldotna said...

Hi Janet,

Thanks for the the link to the info - Who would have thought to look so deep in the site to fin it. There should be a link to it from the home page of the chamber. I will put the link to the file in the main body of my posting.

What misinformation do I have on the blog? Do you consider questions to be misinformation?

There is a lot of opinion and even some misinformation on the info the chamber has put out on that download. Costs? Time lines?

Oh, some folks have to work and can't make mid-day meetings. In my case, work has me out of town right now.


Souldotna said...

OK, FromSOLwithLOVE, here's some answers to your questions. Wish it wasn't so difficult to get the answer to mine.

You wondered if it would make a difference if someone besides a Republican was selling the property.

No, not really. But because the Hutchings family is so well connected, has been involved in the Chamber of Commerce and have had family members on the council, the city and chamber should be especially diligent to show that this deal is on the up and up. I'd like to believe that it is, but with all of the difficulty getting the city or the chamber to understand this, it is reasonable to start thinking something else. I just thought it was odd that someone so involved in the R party as the Hutchings family is, which is very vocal about NO to any gov't help, doesn't think the rules they promote for others might apply to them.

I also don't believe the gov't, especially on the local level, has evil purposes. But there is nothing wrong with asking for accountability, is there? I get the feeling that there is.

I am aware that the process of looking to move the VC isn't new. Really, i am trying to support the purchase. But when I have so much trouble getting straight answers and get accused of misinformation because I ask questions, I resent that.

What is the city and Chamber sugarcating? Well, there is nothing on the chamber info sheet about how much it will cost. Nothing. How does one make an informed decision if the information is not put out there? I've listened to the audio of the council meeting and questions from citizens are dismissed or patronized. And your responses here (not sure if you work for or have official blessing from the city)keep saying my figures are wrong. But they are not.

My blog was an editorial? Not once do I tell people to vote one way or another. All I do is ask questions. When getting the answers from politicos is like pulling teeth from a bear, it does make me lean one particular way. In truth, I would like to support the purchase. It is my citizen's duty to ask questions however. Why I get attacked for that is beyond belief.

Tami Murray said...

It really isn't that hard to get the facts.

Try calling the Chamber, the Mayor or the City Manager for information.

Soldotna Chamber has several items to help inform voters including the 2030 plan and the City Fact sheet. (Under Forms and Downloads on the home page). Really wasn't buried just the spot those types of things land.

Tami Murray said...

Remember this election grants permission but doesn't obligate the purchase. Due diligence will come next.

Souldotna said...

Thanks for the additional info Tami,

Funny, the link to Lemonade Day made the front page of the Chamber webpage, but not the election issue. Priorities I guess.

I've been in close communication with the mayor. Still missing some basic info. Do you know why there is a special election rather than wait until a scheduled election? Why does this have to be resolved in 2 weeks?

sayswhom said...

less people vote in may vs nov.
easier to pass pet projects with
fewer voters.

i say, keep the existing vc and
purchase the property all around
it and push a road through to
centennial park rd for your

if the river is the draw, then
keeping the vc ON the river would
be best.

larger is not always better.
maybe visitors are looking for
an alaskan experience that is
not so "anchorage" in nature.

the property around the vc is
owned by the state and others, if
i recall correctly from my last visit to the borough's assessor
web pages.
look it up.

having a visitors center on the river with a river view and a
good traffic flow would be
better than the proposed site.

keep the car lot commercial and
generating property taxes.

the only folks benefiting would
be the current owners, real estate
commissions and remodeling contractors.


FromSOLwithLOVE said...

Oh it just keeps getting better!! Now Souldotna is implying that folks that attend a CHAMBER OF COMMERCE luncheon don't have to work!! Laughable! All joking aside, I don't know why this has to be a special election. Have you asked the Mayor about that? What does he say? Also, what in the Chamber's document is misinformation? That's important too. I'm sure they would want to know.

sayswhom....Good Grief!!! Maybe you should take your own advice and look things up! Some of the property around the VC is EVOST land. And punch a road through to Centennial....while a great idea, I'm certain that you, in your infinite wisdom are not the only one who has thought about that prospect. Again, land belonging to the Trust has regulations that would not allow that. Look it up....make a call...or sit on the computer and continue to spout your brilliant ideas.

Tami Murray said...


Glad you are talking to the Mayor, the city is your best resource for this project. They will also have the answer to your question about the May election.

The Chamber is simply getting the facts out about how the new location will benefit the city and the visitors. They have done the homework and feasibility study (per the 2030 Plan) and now it's up to the City of Soldotna to take the next step.

I honestly would love to see something other than concrete when I come into town!

sayswhom said...

the vc is already using land for
parking that it does not hold title.
the dnr is the ultimate "owner"
which is the people, and land
swaps/sells are common.

the purpose stated for the purchase
by the trust was for "restoration". the usage
of 100' wide "easement for a road
would hardly interfere with "restoration".

if everyone were to partake of your particular off brand of "wisdom"
and in it's implementation through the written word, the world would suck even more as a result.

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