Businessmen want to turn Wards Cove into resort

Partners plan to buy old cannery facility and turn it into a tourist attraction

Posted: Monday, October 27, 2003

KENAI - In its heyday, Wards Cove operated like a community, bustling with hundreds of people who worked, ate and lived at the cannery on the Kenai River.

It closed in 1999, its 35 buildings abandoned like others along the once economically vibrant stretch of riverfront in Kenai. But all that could change this summer.

Two business partners hope to bring the site back to life. Steve Agni and Jon Faulkner plan to buy the nearly 100-year-old facility from Wards Cove Packing Co. and turn it into a resort.

"What is central to this project is that we recreate the town," Agni said. "Wards Cove at the height of its production was a small town."

Agni and Faulkner are no strangers to the visitor industry in Alaska. Both have experience in buying and operating lodging and retail properties, including Land's End Resort in Homer and the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward.

The sale of the site is due to close on or before Feb. 13. The Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission has approved a conditional-use permit.

"I am very happy to see an abandoned facility on the waterfront be rejuvenated, especially with the historic aspect we do have," said commissioner Barry Eldridge last week.

Agni and Faulkner have ambitious plans for the sprawling site, which they have tentatively named Kenai Landing.

"One of most difficult things about this project is scaling it to reality," Faulkner said.

Fish processing will continue, though not to the capacity it once did. Faulkner said he and Agni hope to bring in a value-added microprocessor that will process commercial- and sport-caught fish and run a shop.

"It is in our financial interest to maintain processing at some level," Agni said.

Agni said they hope to install floating docks and a boat launch ramp. Other possibilities are guided sport fishing and a water taxi operation.

"The ability to enjoy the river and get to the river is of course important to the site," Agni said.

Plans also include horseback riding, a ropes course and a climbing wall. A main portion of the activities will be related to youth camps that Agni and Faulkner hope to establish.

The availability of arts and entertainment is central to the plans. A promenade would be developed into something similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Faulkner said they want to have 30 to 50 small retail spaces to lease to vendors. Agni said in time they hope to cultivate a professional exchange in which artists from across the state and the Lower 48 stay at the site and create their art in studios, as well as sell it at the promenade.

There could be a stage for bands to perform and a theater. Faulkner said he hopes to have some kind of entertainment going on at least four or five nights a week.

Lodging also will be available at Kenai Landing, including an RV park, mid-price hotel rooms with private baths, and more historic, limited-service rooms.

Food will be available in a buffet-style, limited-service venue as well as a brewpub restaurant. Faulkner said they plan to apply for a liquor license and attract a brewer to operate at the site.

Agni and Faulkner have a three-year plan for getting Kenai Landing up and running. It will employ between 25 and 50 people and operate seasonally at first, but some of the services, such as processing, may go on year-round.

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