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No clear path after WSF brainstorm sessions

Unanswered questions still lingered at the end of both nights of Washington State Ferry proposal meetings, leaving much up in the air in deciding what projects will be the most feasible and successful for the Bainbridge community.

Citizens, business members and city officials packed in the council chambers Monday and Tuesday to brainstorm a list of project proposals for either option presented by the WSF to finally resolve the long-debated issue over the land and 1995 memorandum of agreement. The city’s choices include a $2 million financial settlement from WSF or negotiating a lease agreement for the one-acre parcel of land on the WSF maintenance facility on Eagle Harbor.

Many of the questions involved the vagueness of the financial figures, the cost of the lease and whether the city could combine the lease and financial settlement.

“I wish I could be more definitive,” said Mayor Bob Scales. “We don’t have a blueprint for how to do this and no other community I’m aware of has been offered this. We have to start somewhere.”

City councilors are using the latest information provided by WSF Assistant Secretary David Moseley, who sent a letter to Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer last Friday. In the letter, Moseley stated the lease would be at a fair market value and gave “a somewhat educated guess based upon other WSF leases in Puget Sound” of $25,000-$30,000 per month. That’s a price numerous citizens, including council members Barry Peters and Debbie Lester, concluded would be too steep for anyone to pay.

“In 2006, WSF offered the lease for $6,500 to $8,000 per month,” said Lester. “It makes me wonder why I didn’t invest in superfund property because it’s the only property I’ve seen during this economy that actually increases five-fold from what it was five years ago.”

Lester, who is an advocate for the lease of the land, said she thinks the city has room to find common ground with WSF. Lester said that Puget Sound sites such as the Port of Seattle, which she said leases prime waterfront for $7,000 per month, are examples of actual fair market value.

In a phone conversation this week, Moseley said estimating the lease figure was “no attempt to skew the direction of the city one way or another. We are willing to honor either way the city goes. In terms of what the city wants the ball is in their court.”

Moseley said that if the city wants the money he expects the appraisal figure to come in at $2 million. He reiterated, the agreement with the city is for either $2 million or a lease for the land – not both.

Peters presented a plan to improve the city dock and add a marina with up to 40 slips for community recreation. Peters and a team of volunteers included two designs, monetary estimates and permitting requirements.

One of the designs estimated the $2 million would be a feasible amount for completing the project, which could include a fuel dock as well as moorage for visiting boaters, and improved boat launch and amenities for rowing and kayaking. Also included was a plan to use revenue from the marina to fund a full-time city employee to help manage the harbor.

Other proposals for the $2 million included; using the money to purchase the Bainbridge Island Boat yard property owned by Darrell and Vannee McNabb; creating a fuel dock; a water taxi; and the formation of a port authority.

Lester led Tuesday’s discussions on proposals for the land lease. On hand were representatives from two of the businesses that submitted letters of interest to the city to operate on the land.

Bill Mahler from the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building said his school is interested in starting several programs should the city decide to have a boat building facility on the land. Programs could include: an apprenticeship program for graduates to build and repair small boats; a plan to generate revenue by commissioning boats to sell; and soliciting repair and restoration projects from local boaters.

The project proposal submitted by architect Andy Parker is a hybrid of the financial settlement and lease.

Parker suggested the city give the $2 million back to WSF for a parking garage on the maintenance facility that would free up the current 120 parking spaces, and provide more room for a boat yard.

Parker said his proposal still has unsolved issues. The WSF lease is set at 70 cents per square foot, “which simply isn’t doable. Something closer to 20 cents might be workable, but until we get a number like that nothing will work and this is just one big waste of time.”

John Papajani of Seaview Boatyard and Yacht Service presented Seaview’s interest in the Eagle Harbor site. A Seaview team toured the site and saw potential in operating a boatyard because of a potential larger customer base. Papajani said a boatyard would be difficult with the parcel WSF is currently presenting, but would be possible with the site Parker proposed.

Papajani said the estimated costs to build a Seaview boatyard would be about $2 million. He estimated that his four boatsyards (in Seattle and Bellingham) pay a lease rate around 15 cents per square foot. Seaview would need a similar lease rate.

“I don’t know if we can do it under what we’ve seen so far, but when you get some more concrete numbers and we can look with our financial guys, it very might well work,” he said. “It’s all based on a lease.”

The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum also expressed interest in the site.

By the end of the second evening, many citizens expressed interest in getting a professional negotiator or state Rep. Christine Rolfes involved. They feared that the best-case scenario might not be achieved if the process is hurried.

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