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Developers work to complete Wards Cove Face-lift by May
Kenai Landing: Old Cannery will become a resort community
By Sara Schnell
Two Southcentral developers have started renovating Wards Cove, the 1920's-era cannery in Kenai, shuttered five years ago. They are turning buildings that once housed 150 workers into Kenai Landing, a community they hope will bustle with tourists, fishermen and artists, said developer Jon Faulkner.
Small seasonal shops and lodging should open by mid-May, Faulkner said, with a 200-seat restaurant opening by mid- to late June. Faulkner and partner Steve Agni also envision floating docks and custom fish processing. A brew pub and offices for fishing charters may follow this year or next.
When the Wards Cove site came up for sale, it was an irresistible bargain, Faulkner said: beautiful, historic, Alaskan.
"You've got the beach out the back door and the Kenai River out the front door," he said. Plus the property was accessible, right on Kalifornsky Beach Road, and priced right. "The economic opportunity is pretty clear."
"The fishing industry is a little on its heels, but the industry I'm in, the visitor industry, is growing," Faulkner said.
Faulkner said he and Agni developed Land's End Resort in Homer. He said he will run Kenai Landing, while Agni, a former real estate consultant for Carr Gottstein Properties, will focus on the renovations. The partners are spending about $2.5 million to buy and renovate the property, he said.
Cordova-based Copper River Seafoods is the prospective processor that may fill roughly 10,000 square feet of one of the complex's warehouses, said co-owner Scott Blake. Faulkner hopes to offer commercial fishermen and sport fishermen custom packing by June.
A regional ice plant through the Kenai Borough Economic Development District could take up half a warehouse, Faulkner said.
Turning the original cannery into a restaurant and brew pub is the most expensive part of Kenai Landing for the developers, Faulkner said. Work starts mid-March. Jeff Kilgore, who opened Legends restaurant in Seward, will run it, Faulkner said.
Half a dozen retailers, including a tackle shop, coffee shop, horn and antler shop, and an antique shop are lined up for a dockside warehouse market this summer.
"We're donating some space to the potter's guild" too, Faulkner said. "People can see them throw their pots, then walk over to the market and buy their wares."
"People really care about this place, have a lot of memories and strong feelings about it," said Marty Hapeman, owner of Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She looks forward to opening a small gallery in the warehouse supported by foot-thick fir beams over wooden floors. "It's just screaming for an arts community to come in and be a vital par of it."
One of the artists Hapeman features is Thor Evenson, who lived and fished at Wards Cove since he was a teenager in the 1960's.
"I have mixed feelings about the modern trend, the orism industry," said Evenson, who has seen industries come and go since before statehood. But he likes that people could enjoy the space in a way that retains some of its historic character. "It wood be the best fate for it, I think."
Hapeman plans to name her mini gallery in honor of Evenson's father, a supporter of local artists. There are plenty of central peninsula artists to support, she added, though the area doesn't have the reputation for art that Homer does.
"They just don't know they're a community yet," Hapeman said. "Maybe Kenai Landing can help them realize it."
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