How should terminal district develop?

New overpasses are one vision; the city wants islanders to help look at others.

When weighing aesthetics, some see extremes.

A tunnel entrance to the new ferry terminal could ease traffic at the intersection of 305 and Winslow Way; it also conjures images of metropolitan dystopia hardly befitting Bainbridge.

So Washington State Ferries says early designs for the new terminal – among them, one that includes a tunnel – are simply fodder for further discussion. The goal is to overhaul an area fraught with congestion caused by poor design.

But the city, in hopes of keeping its own front steps neat and tidy, has enlisted a new set of hands to help sculpt a ferry district that will welcome visitors and adhere to island character.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Rick Williams, of Van Meter, Williams, Pollock, an architecture and urban design firm with offices in San Francisco and Denver. “We’re ready to come in and do a lot of listening.”

If approved tonight by the City Council, VMWP will work with the city, Washington State Ferries, Kitsap Transit and community and business interests to integrate the coming ferry terminal expansion into the surrounding landscape. Securing the firm’s services will cost the city $133,670.

Winslow Tomorrow’s project manager Sandy Fischer said the city chose VMWP from a pool of 17 respondents based on the firm’s experience with transit-oriented design and its communication skills.

She pointed to VMWP’s familiarity with sustainable design and its previous work with transportation consultant Jim Charlier, who teamed with the city to plan Winslow Tomorrow.

The process will include a series of community meetings, the first of which will happen in September.

In the meantime, VMWP will meet with focus groups later this month to begin outlining needs for the project.

The city hopes to select a preferred alternative by the end of the year.

Fischer said the city’s main goal is to ensure that plans for the new terminal mesh well with those outlined by Winslow Tomorrow.

That includes evaluating whether some of the more drastic elements of early terminal designs, like overpasses and tunnels, would be a good fit.

“That area leaves the first impression on (island) visitors,” she said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to think about it as a gateway to the community.”

Managing competing interests could potentially complicate matters.

Certain traffic configurations, for example, might better suit WSF’s vision of the new terminal than the city’s, or vice versa.

Still, Fischer said WSF and the other groups involved have thus far been receptive to the city’s concerns.

Williams said VMWP has on a number of occasions reconciled quarrels between agencies with different interests in the same project.

“Getting the key stakeholders to define their needs is critical,” Williams said. “We’ll have some good ideas and some bad ideas, but the key will be to build consensus over time.”

The firm recently designed an intermodal transit center in Napa, Calif., that Williams said is a good example of what they do.

The mixed-use development included a bus and rail transit center, 75 units of housing and 30,000 square feet of retail space situated near the city’s downtown and riverfront.

The community, city and local transit authority all had differing visions, particularly when it came to parking, but Williams said the group was eventually able to agree on a layout that worked.

That type of experience resonated with Fischer and the city, who face a similar scenario as downtown grows and the ferry terminal project progresses.

Fischer noted that few local firms were interested in tackling the project for fear of alienating the state-run ferry system.

Williams said dealing with ferries will be a new, but welcome, challenge for VMWP.

Both Fischer and Williams stressed community involvement throughout the project.

The city is considering candidates for a new community advisory group, to consist of 12 to 15 “citizen stakeholders” to guide design. The group will play a role similar to that of WSF’s 12-member CAG for the ferry terminal.

“We’re excited that there is a lot of community interest surrounding the project,” Williams said. “We want this to be a team-building experience, so we’re going to come in with an open mind.”

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