"Parking garage project retooled, again"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:16 PM
"Art and culture are significant Bainbridge Island values. So is a vibrant downtown Winslow. And affordable housing remains a huge problem.To pull those needs together, the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority is proposing what it calls the Bainbridge Cultural Center on Town Square, in the area between the farmers' market plaza and the back of the businesses on the north side of Winslow Way.We don't really have a space for civic functions, said island architect Bill Isley, acting as a consultant for the KCCHA.The arts auction, for instance, has had to move off the island because there is no place here big enough to host it. That sort of thing should stay here, he said.The plan will be presented at a joint city council/KCCHA workshop at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at city hall.The plan calls for a multi-level underground parking garage, and for as many as 50 apartments, half of which would be affordable.The cultural center proposal is a down-sized and refocused version of the Winslow Town Square plan originally proposed a year ago by local architect Bill Chester. The original plan called for retail use on the ground floor and residential use above that.The housing authority entered the picture by proposing affordable housing for half of the residential units. Incorporating such housing would allow the authority to pay for a substantial proportion of the construction through tax-exempt bonds.But when Isley began a series of focus-group meetings on the proposal with Winslow merchants, he learned that the housing authority's tax-free financial status caused some heartburn.A lot of the business community didn't think the housing authority should be competing with them using tax-free money, Isley said.The change in focus from commercial purpose to civic purpose not only removes that objection, Isley said, but allows KCCHA to pay for the entire project, not just a portion of it, with tax-free bonding money.The new configuration features a 4,000-square-foot banquet room with a kitchen, two conference rooms and two flexible space areas of roughly 2,000 square feet each. Bainbridge Performing Arts is trying to do a lot of things beyond performances - things like classes, Isley said. They need space like this.Isley said some of the space could also accommodate the Bainbridge Historical Society, which is trying to move its museum from Strawberry Hill Park into downtown.A day-care center is another need that has frequently been mentioned, he said.The multi-level parking garage would contain 346 spaces. Some would go to the city to replace the surface-parking lots that presently occupy the space where the structure would go. Others would be used by the residents. But 176 stalls would be available to the public.I would not park there when I go to the hardware store, said council member Merrill Robison. But the employees would park there, which would free up more spaces on the street.The size of the proposal was also scaled back during the workshop process. As initially conceived, the structure would have included the parking lot behind the Isla Bonita restaurant, which is owned by Dr. Thomas Haggar and his partner and used as parking by Virginia Mason Clinic employees.But Haggar determined that he needed to retain the property to facilitate possible future expansion of the clinic. That force Isley to confine the plan to city-owned The housing can be self-sustaining, Isley said, because the market-rate units can subsidize the affordable units. And because these are going to be rentals, we can keep them affordable.The same principle could apply to the cultural space, Isley said - commercial events could generate enough revenue to subsidize the non-commercial events.That leaves only the parking.There are several options there, Isley said. The city's capital-needs budget identifies over $1 million for parking. The money isn't actually there, but if the city puts it in, that would be available.He said that the business community will have to have some involvement.But he said that businesses would benefit in two ways. The additional parking would make downtown shopping more attractive. And businesses could lease parking spaces, which would count towards their zoning requirement of four places per 1,000 square feet of floor area, which would allow the businesses to expand.In the short run, at least, you could also use some of those spaces for ferry parking, Isley said.Although reluctant to lose the additional retail space, council member Robison said the additional parking and housing are necessary.We want Winslow to be a vibrant, viable downtown, he said. While I won't buy a pig in a poke, as the only council member who lives in Winslow, I'm strongly supportive of this concept. "