Merchants lukewarm on parking garage

"The Winslow Town Square parking structure and mixed-use complex will be a tough sell to Winslow businesses.But it may provide the best long-term way of maintaining downtown as a vital commercial core for Bainbridge Island.Those opinions emerged Monday night from the first of a series of small focus-group meetings on the ambitious plan to bring as many as 80 residential units and 600 new parking spaces to the area between city hall and the north side of Winslow Way.We can have one of the neatest downtowns in the country, said architect Bill Isley, who conducted the meeting. A lot of the elements are in place. But we need to pull them together.Isley is acting as a consultant for the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, which is working with the city to study the feasibility of the multi-purpose project. The KCCHA involvement arises from the prospect of making half of the project's potential housing units affordable.The area under study runs from Madison Avenue on the west to Ericksen Avenue on the east, and from the city hall-farmers' market-BPA Playhouse complex on the north to the rear of Winslow Way businesses on the south.The plan calls for underground parking structures, possibly of several stories, with a new retail alleyway on the ground level and residences above that. The plan includes a service road that would allow delivery trucks to reach Winslow Way businesses from the rear, putting an end to the frequent blocking of traffic in the heart of downtown. Pedestrian access also would be improved.Last night's meeting was for owners of businesses on the west end of Winslow Way. And the businesses affected were well represented.I'll go right to the bottom line - how are you going to pay for the garage? asked Earl Miller, who owns Lundgren Station at the corner of Winslow and Madison and the building next door that houses Schmidt's Appliances.KCCHA Deputy Director Roger Waid said that bonds could be sold, and that because his agency's tax-exempt status, repayments would be less than if the financing were done privately.We can't do projects that lose money, but we can operate more cheaply than the private sector, Waid said.Miller said that if business owners could finance the parking they buy in the structure at KCCHA's favorable rates, the tough sell to the business community might fly.But that raised questions from construction manager Bror Elmquist, who was at the meeting on behalf of the Bainbridge HPC and who also represents the owners of the former Doogal's property, about unfair competition with the private sectorIf this is phased in gradually, it won't be a problem, Elmquist said. But if all the retail and the housing comes on stream at once and absorbs all the demand, the private sector might have some difficulty with that.Waid also said that if private enterprise wanted to do all or a portion of the project, that would be fine with KCCHA.Our interest is in the housing units, he said.Isley said that the issue of the so-called pet store property between the BPA Playhouse and Ericksen Avenue, where a pet store used to sit, is no longer a potential spoiler for the project.Original plans for the project included the parking lot behind the Isla Bonita restaurant, which is owned by Dr. Thomas Haggar and a partner and is used for Virginia Mason employee parking.The proposal was for the city to acquire the Haggar property in trade for the city-owned pet store property. But the city had also offered to make the pet store lot available to the historical society as a downtown home, setting up a potential conflict. But Isley said he did not think Haggar, who he described as a friend and neighbor, is still interested in the trade, because the large historic trees on the pet store grounds severely limit what can be built on it.Haggar is open to a possible alternative, Isley said, of allowing underground parking - some of which could be used by the clinic - on the old mortuary property fronting Ericksen, and retaining the surface for possible clinic expansion.Haggar was not present at the meeting.In essence, our partnership with Dr. Haggar would be a vertical partnership instead of a horizontal one, Isley said. But that really doesn't matter. You would lose some housing units, but you could do this project without any of that property.Meetings will continue with other property owners on both sides of Winslow Way through Sept. 25.The feedback from the meetings is essential, city councilman Norm Wooldridge told the participants.If we don't see strong support from the merchant community for this, it won't happen, Wooldridge said. "

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