By Jenny Neyman
The devil is in the details. That would make Ron Hyde, CEO of PRL Logistics, not just the planner of renovations and new development at the 100-year-old Libby, McNeill and Libby cannery at the mouth of the Kenai River, but the exorcist, as it’s been one hell of a project.
Hyde bought a portion of the historic cannery site and spent seven months over the fall and winter fixing it up in order to open a Kenai branch of his Anchorage-based business. With road access to the highway, marine access into the mouth of the Kenai River and space to add a landing pad for helicopters, PRL’s new Kenai hub has the capability to service projects across the entire Kenai Peninsula, Cook Inlet and beyond.
“This is the perfect logistics hub, it has been for over a century, whether it’s fishing or fur trading. Back to the Russian days, this has been a logistics spot, so it’s really incredible from that standpoint,” Hyde said.
Also incredible is the transformation the site has undergone — about 100 dump truck loads of gravel for ground leveling and improved drainage,
stabilization of an eroding bluff over the river, and a building remodel so painstakingly detailed that it would have been easier to simply bulldoze and build new.
In terms of heating, electrical, water, technology and much of the structure, the building is indeed brand new. In look, it’s still authentically antique, retaining the century-old feel of the cannery site. And not just a “faux old” veneer of authenticity, with paint treatments to distress new materials or some kitschy items displayed here and there to add character to otherwise run-of-the-mill design.
That approach would have made the job quicker, easier and cheaper. But that wouldn’t have honored the history of the site. Therefore, to Hyde, that wouldn’t have been a job done right.
“It was really a labor of love, to tell you the truth. Every piece of wood we found that had character to it, we used,” Hyde said. “Every single piece in here has come from the original building — we reused everything. The little teeny pieces, we even found uses for those.
“We’re trying to add some romance back into this place.”
The cannery site has plenty of character to love, though it’s been tarnished by disrepair and destruction. The Libby, McNeill and Libby cannery started operation in 1912 and was rebuilt after a 1921 fire. It was sold to Columbia Wards in the 1950s and became Wards Cove Packing in the 1980s. It remained in operation, later switching from canning to freezing salmon, until 1998. In its heyday the site was a village unto itself during fishing season — with housing, cooking and laundry facilities for workers, as well as all the warehouse and work spaces, dock facilities, machinery and equipment necessary for cannery operations. The site wasn’t built for winter operations, nor was it maintained against the ravages of time.
In 2004, private developers Steve Agni and John Faulkner — veterans of the visitor industry in Southcentral with Land’s End Resort in Homer and the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward, bought the 65-acre, 35-building site to turn it into Kenai Landing. The project was meant to be a destination for tourists and locals alike, with a hotel, condos, a restaurant, theater and Pike’s Place-type marketplace of local arts and crafts vendors, all marketed with the site’s historic appeal. Meanwhile, the docks would still be operational and fish processing would continue.
But the development dreams didn’t materialize into reality, and Kenai Landing closed in 2010. In June 2012, the 40,000-square-foot wood warehouse was dismantled and sold off, and Kenai Landing Inc. was looking to divest itself of other bits and parts of the property, as well. Continue reading