By Jenny Neyman
As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.” But after 45-plus years of performing, here, there and anywhere space could be found, the Kenai Performers want a corner of the world for their own stage.
With a vote by the Kenai City Council at its meeting April 15, it looks like that might happen. The council voted unanimously to authorize the city manager to work on a donation of about two acres of land to the nonprofit organization, on which it can build a theater.
“I was very pleasantly surprised. I’ll admit I shed a tear,” said Sally Cassano, board president of the Kenai Performers.
The organization has rented several locations over the years, currently the old Peninsula Athletic Club next to Subway on Kalifornsky Beach Road. And it owned a building in Kenai for a couple of years, on the corner of North Spruce Street and First Avenue. But pre-existing buildings haven’t met the theater organization’s unique needs — for performance space, lots of storage, a lobby, areas for technical equipment, and the bathrooms, parking space, safety systems and other requirements for facilitating large crowds.
“Right now we’re just spending so much on storage and rent. And it was difficult in the old building, as well, because once we got in there the stipulations on us for getting to be able to hold a group of people in there were really too much. We didn’t realize the air exchange system and things like that,” Cassano said.
So the group has been looking to build, but land in the city was out of its reach.
“The price of land is skyrocketing, and we were looking at down K-Beach but then it kind of removes us from Kenai,” she said.
The organization presented three options to the city — a 2-acre lot on Evergreen Street and the Kenai Spur Highway, west of town past the Moose Club and before the soccer fields. Option two was 2 acres in that same spot, but farther back from the highway. Option three was a parcel even farther back on Evergreen, across Redoubt Avenue. The council supported option two, with direction to the city manager that he be able to tweak the parcel’s boundaries if need be to accommodate access to utilities.
The details of the donation still need to be settled and the deal will have some conditions — that a development schedule be established, that the Kenai Performers not sell the land for 20 years, and if the land is eventually sold, that the value of the property at the time of the sale be reimbursed to the city.
That was enough assurance for the council. Vice Mayor Brian Gabriel said he’s heard comments that this action might set a precedent for other groups wanting land, but that he thinks having the theater in town, especially as it involves school kids, is worth the city’s support.
“Voting yes or no, is this a benefit for the city? Will the quality of life in the city be improved by this? The arts are one of these things that sometimes you’re not going to see a return on your dollar but there is a value to that to our communities,” Gabriel said.
Council member Tim Navarre also recognized no direct financial gain for the city in the donation but sees value in it nonetheless.
“It’s sitting next to the soccer fields, which we pay money to, and it participates in our community. It costs us money to have those things but it’s important for a community to grow in a number of different ways and this is a move in making the city grow into the next phase,” Navarre said.
Mayor Pat Porter was sold on the name alone — and the organization’s nearly half-century history of enriching the community with arts and entertainment.
“And I really, truly believe that you’re very deserving of that,” Porter said. “You’ve been around a long time. I mean, gosh, your name starts with ‘Kenai.’ Why wouldn’t you continue to exist in this community?”
Cassano said that the organization is ready to get building.
“Now we have a meeting with an architect, we have our plans all ready for building. We’re in the process of doing a new (Department of Agriculture) loan,” she said.
She said the plan is to have a small performance space that can seat around 100 people within a year.