"Town Square resurfaces, with art spaceThe search for a third angle for the parking garage continues."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:52 PM
"The on-again, off-again Winslow Town Square project has surfaced again, this time with an arts orientation to go with the underground parking and affordable housing.Art is almost the definition of what our community is, said Winslow architect Peter O'Connor, one of the plan's proponents.And this is a way of keeping some of the people that make this the place that it is.The project, envisioned for the area south of the Farmers Market plaza between City Hall and the Bainbridge Performing Arts Playhouse, is now proposed as a collaboration between the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority and the city.KCCHA wants to develop as many as 50 affordable-housing units. The city and the Winslow business community have been interested in an underground parking structure to facilitate patronizing downtown businesses. The third element - what to do at ground level - has been up in the air.I'd love to see that square full of people all the time, like it is when the farmers' market is on, said O'Connor.When the project was originally proposed as a private, for-profit development, the ground-level element was retail, to help finance the parking garage. But the housing would have been principally market-rate.When the housing authority became involved last summer, it proposed to be the developer and make the housing units affordable, which it could do because of its access to tax-free bond money.But when the island's business community raised questions about the propriety of the housing authority building retail space in competition with private projects -- using tax-exempt financing - the retail component was scrapped.Instead, a convention center was proposed, but that generated little enthusiasm; it was seen as creating mainly low-wage jobs and providing little local benefit.O'Connor, though, believes an arts orientation may be the ticket.This would be a public use that would benefit the local public, he said. And the affordable housing might help keep some of the artists on the island who are leaving because of high prices.O'Connor envisions a combination of studio space, galleries and classrooms, where visitors could watch artists at work, purchase art and attend classes and demonstrations.The kids classes at Bainbridge Performing Arts are amazingly successful, he said. And this could provide a space not only for visual artists, but for our writers to conduct workshops.A residual benefit, O'Connor said, is that such an art center might attract visitors, and reinforce the existing art galleries.The next step, O'Connor said, is to get out a mailing to the local arts community describing the concept and requesting feedback so that the plan can be turned into a concrete proposal.We had heard the whole project was on hold, O'Connor said. Now that it's alive again, we have to pull something specific together.Parking needsOne element driving the project is the unsolved problem of downtown parking. The Winslow Master Plan, part of the city's Comprehensive Plan, calls for development of structured parking at the City Hall site, as well as development of several small surface lots near Winslow Way.Part of the money for the lots was to come from developer contributions. The city code requires a certain number of parking places per square foot of developed area, but allows developers to contribute to a city fund instead of actually creating the spaces.The ordinance has been on the books since the 1980s, city Administrator Lynn Nordby said, but nobody has actually used it yet.That may change soon. The developers of the mixed-use project on Winslow Way and Ericksen Avenue at the site of the old Doogal's restaurant are proposing to buy 10 spaces at $17,500 a space - a fee set to approximate the cost of building an underground parking space.If we take the money, we have some sort of obligation to build the spaces, Nordby said, although we don't have a strict time deadline, the way we do with certain impact fees.But circumstances are creating urgency, if not a deadline. Winslow Way is due to be rebuilt in the next few years - the present time frame is 2004. And no matter how that is done, some parking will be lost during the work.If we could get something together before then, that would make life a lot easier, Nordby said.The overarching problem, though, remains trying to figure out how the whole project would be financed.Local architect Bill Isley, who is consulting with the housing authority on the project, has put together a tentative plan for the parking structure itself that includes revenue streams from the city, some voluntary contributions and money from the business community.Chamber of Commerce executive director Jack MacArthur said he has not yet approached the merchant community with any financing proposal, but said he plans to do so immediately after the Fourth of July.This may be our last shot at this, Isley said. If we can't figure out how the project is going to be paid for, it will collapse. "