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Parking garage coasts into place

"Should it be called a cultural center? A convention center? A gathering center?No one seems sure.But the idea of a really big room with a kitchen - with apartments on the roof - seems to have revived plans for a parking garage just north of Winslow Way.My daddy used to say, when the ducks fly, you'd better be ready to shoot,' City Council Chair Merrill Robison said, after a presentation on the $15 million Town Square project at city hall Monday evening. This duck is flying.Joining Robison on the dais were Mayor Dwight Sutton and four council members, for a two-hour presentation by Winslow architect Bill Isley and several representatives of the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority. About two dozen citizens attended.Isley, who has helped resuscitate the proposal since it fell moribund last fall, discussed a project that would see four levels of underground parking and two stories of multi-family housing, sandwiching a cultural center at ground level. The project would sit immediately south of the new farmers' market plaza, on land now occupied by a gravel parking area.A total of 376 parking spaces would be created, 175 for use by the general public. By comparison, Isley said, there are now 200 spaces on Winslow Way, 873 in all of Winslow.Everybody knows parking is a problem, Isley said. Here's an opportunity to build some in the middle of Winslow, along with some housing.The parking structure by itself would cost about $7 million.A new retail alleyway, proposed in a similar study commissioned by the city last year, has been abandoned. In its place would be a cultural component, which would be up to 10,000 square feet and involve some sort of indeterminate public and private uses.Because of the 20-foot grade change from Winslow Way up to the farmers' market plaza, visual perspectives would vary from one side to the next. Looking north from Madrone Lane, passersby would see the entry to the parking garage, with four stories of apartments staggered like building blocks above it. Looking south from the farmers' market, one would see a cultural center, topped by two stories of housing.Isley said the project would be oriented with the public area facing the market and city hall, to accentuate the town square concept. The proposal would not involve consolidation of neighboring parcels, and apparently would still leave room for relocation of the historical museum to the old pet store property on Ericksen Avenue.It remains unclear how much financial support would be required of the city beyond donation of the land. Isley noted that $750,000 is earmarked for parking in the city's capital plan around the year 2005.Once completed, the project would be owned by the housing authority, which would recoup development costs through leases of the space, and perhaps parking tax revenue.We hope that with this partnership, we can do a signature project, KCCHA Director Norm McLaughlin said. Merchants could buy inThe idea of a parking garage surfaced most recently in 1997, during a study by Team Winslow and the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce. But the project failed to gain traction, primarily because of financing. Underground parking structures usually cost about $20,000 per stall, Isley said, compared to $13,500 per stall for the construction of surface lots. Other revenue-generating components have been suggested - most recently, the cultural hall and housing - because area merchants have been lukewarm about kicking their own money into the project.The business owners are very enthusiastic about the new parking, Councilman Norm Wooldridge noted Monday, but not very enthusiastic about the financial support.But Monday's meeting inspired renewed tales of woe over the lack of spaces for downtown shoppers and those trying to reach the Winslow terminal.I know everybody in this room has parked illegally and gone to the ferry, Isley said, to a round of chuckles.The current proposal has taken shape through a series of eight focus group meetings with Winslow merchants, community groups and nearby residents.Downtown interests were well represented Monday amongst those on hand - including about half of the chamber board.I'm really pleased that it's got wheels again, said Jack MacArthur, chamber director.Earlier proposals, MacArthur suggested, mired because no investor or organization had established ownership of the idea. He expressed support for the housing agency - which has the authority to issue low-interest, tax-exempt bonds, and can land grant funding - as the proponent. He praised the project as best means for getting a parking garage with minimal impact on island taxpayers.Even without a retail component, MacArthur said, with parking, we'll get the retail.The comments of Winslow Hardware owner Ken Schuricht seemed to support that view. Schuricht told the audience that future expansion of his business is held up the lack of space for parking.Under the city code, putting a second story on the 6,000-square-foot hardware building would require the creation of 24 new parking spaces. The garage could allow Schuricht and other business owners a way to buy in to meet such requirements.Others praised the chance for new housing units in the downtown core. About 50 are proposed, from studio apartments to two-bedroom affairs. Approximately half would be subsidized for qualifying low-income residents.Just what is a 'cultural' hall?But questions did arise about the nature of the cultural center component and precisely what function it would serve, given that the Bainbridge Performing Arts Playhouse would sit just 50 yards away.One attendee suggested that the proposal was essentially a glorified hotel meeting room. But project volunteer Wini Jones maintained that current island facilities for wedding receptions and the like are woefully inadequate - too small or run-down to be appealing, marred by poor acoustics, or burdened by use restrictions like no-booze policies.Jones suggested the facility could be a banquet room to accommodate parties of 300-500 guests, with a professional kitchen and state-of-the-art multi-media equipment for presentations. The facility could be administered by a professional outfit, perhaps Seattle-based to attract regional users.Call it a 'gathering center' if you want, one attendee said in support.Other considerations raised included improvement of an alley behind current Winslow Way businesses, now under patchwork ownership. Consolidation of that strip may be necessary for service access, Isley said.Likewise, Madrone Lane next to the Blackbird Bakery is still privately owned, and some right of public access would be needed to allow drivers to reach the new garage.The Town Square proposal may turn up before the city council at this week's meeting. Sources close to the project told the Review that the council may be formally presented with a draft pre-development agreement between the city and the housing authority, to keep the work going. Under the terms, the city would be asked to pony up $50,000 toward a preliminary environmental, traffic and cost study. The housing authority, having already spent $30,000 laying the groundwork, would put up another $20,000.The meeting adjourned with no formal proposal made.I'd hate to see just a parking garage here, because it would be a wasted opportunity, Isley said. "

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