AT&T deal brings windfall for island

After AT&T Broadband bought out the Northland Cablevision franchise on Bainbridge Island, it moved operations from High School Road to a more central facility in Kitsap County.

Now, AT&T is offering virtually all of its inherited Bainbridge holdings to local agencies – 10 acres of forested land to the park district, a studio for Bainbridge Island Broadcasting, and space on its towers for local emergency communications.

“We had asked them about the facility some time ago, and said what we would like to see,” city Administrator Lynn Nordby said this week. “Basically, they said they would do it.”

Nordby said the deal, which AT&T announced Monday, has not yet been put into writing. But the anticipated recipients of the property are thrilled.

“This is right next to Strawberry Hill Park, and has the potential to add a couple more ball fields,” said Dave Lewis, park district director.

AT&T specifically supports that option. According to a company news release, the deal stipulates that the proceeds from timber taken off the property – valued at an estimated $25,000 to $35,000 – be used to build playing fields.

The acreage surrounds the former cable company building on the north side of High School Road, immediately east of the park. Lewis said his understanding is that AT&T will lease the property to the park district for 10 years at $1 per year, and will offer the Bainbridge school district a right of first refusal to buy the land for a school site if the property is ever sold.

AT&T spokesman Steve Kipp said the company wanted to take action that would enhance its image on the island, and believed that promoting ball fields would be the best shot.

“Once the ball fields are in there, we know that whatever happens to that property in the future, they won’t be taken out to make way for houses,” he said.

Kipp said he did not know why the company did not deed the property outright to the park district.

Ken Crawford, superintendent of Bainbridge Island schools, had not heard about the transaction, but said the proximity to a park would make the site attractive.

The deal also came as news to Bainbridge fire officials, who did not know about the possible use of the AT&T tower for emergency communication. That was a concession the city had asked for.

For Bainbridge Island Broadcasting, the news comes at the best possible time – BIB is currently housed in the old wing of the Commodore complex, which is scheduled to be torn down next summer.

“I’m very excited about this and anxious to find out exactly what it entails,” BIB Executive Director Wendy Johnson said.

AT&T will continue using a small portion of the building as its “head end,” to receive and distribute its cable TV signals to Bainbridge subscribers. While Johnson is not sure how much of the 1,700-square-foot building the company will need, she believes the studio and much of the office space will become available to BIB.

“We can potentially have live programming as soon as we have access to the facility,” she said. “We can have call-in shows and stronger programming that generates dialog. A community conversation is what we really need on Bainbridge.”

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