Parking garage could be new retail center

"This is for everyone who’s ever tried to find a parking spot on Winslow Way during daylight hours.And likely failed.City officials are considering scheduling a public study session on a plan to build a “town square” on two plots of property between the Bainbridge Playhouse and the north side of Winslow Way.As envisioned by numerous civic leaders, the Winslow Town Square would encompass two joined three- or four-story structures with as many as 575 parking stalls, some located underground, and 15,000 square feet of retail or office space.It’s seen as an opportunity to not only add badly needed downtown parking space, but to provide a sense of unity to the rapidly transforming site surrounding the new city hall building.“There’s a wonderful civic court there that’s being created for the farmer’s market, and it could be used for so much more – outdoor concerts and theater, the Grand Old Fourth, and so on,” said architect Bill Chester, whose firm was commissioned by the city to study the plan’s viability.“On top of that, many of the Winslow merchants feel that available parking is so critical to downtown. This is a way to bring everybody’s needs and interests together.”The Town Square project first took shape during meetings of a Team Winslow parking subcommittee in the spring of 1997. Last year, Mayor Dwight Sutton convened a 90-day citizens’ advisory committee to further study the idea. Out of the latter came a consensus among downtown merchants and property owners that a Town Square project in some form should be pursued.As with any project of such ambitious scope, there are hurdles to overcome. They include:-- Property acquisition. The envisioned site encompasses about an acre, half belonging to the city and the other half belonging to Dr. Thomas Haggar, a longtime physician at the nearby Virginia Mason Winslow Clinic. Assuming that the city lacks the funds to buy the property outright, Chester said, it could swap one of its other nearby plots for his. One likely site Chester suggested is the Ericksen Avenue “pet store” site – but that’s currently the target of ongoing negotiations between the city and the Bainbridge Island Historical Society over the possible future home of the museum currently sited at Strawberry Hill Park.-- Financial partnerships. Under Chester’s plan, some of the parking would be set aside for city use while the majority would be open to the public. Financing options include drafting an ordinance that would exempt property owners from new parking requirements under a likely rezone of the area in exchange for their monetary participation.The facility could also be paid for through assessments collected by a local improvement district, or the cost could be spread evenly among island taxpayers by having the project satisfy the mandates for it contained in the Winlsow Master Plan and the island’s Comprehensive Plan.-- Determining the developer. Should the city be in the business of building parking garages, or should it sell the idea and the land to a private developer? Should it make the city and public parking areas in such a facility distinctly separate? Those are questions to which all affected – from property owners to parkers – should posit a response.“Parking is very much needed in the area if we expect the area to continue as a vital commercial center in our city,” said Sam Granato, former mayor, who chaired the citizens’ advisory committee. “Without additional parking, we risk raising the frustration level of shoppers who will turn to High School Road, Poulsbo, Silverdale and Seattle to meet their needs.”"

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