Planners see bold future for ferry yard

A bird
A bird's-eye view of one scenario for the Eagle Harbor maintenance yard, viewed from the south side of Eagle Harbor.
— image credit: Courtesy of BC&J Architects

A maritime village with a boatyard, marina, hotel, restaurants and art facilities could develop on the five acres of Eagle Harbor waterfront now occupied by the ferry maintenance yard.

It won’t happen for a few years yet, and even then, only if Washington State Ferries decides to move its maintenance facility into Seattle as a consultant has recommended.

But a group of interested volunteers says it’s not too early to start planning. They are holding an open house at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Commons to unveil their plan, and they want plenty of public input.

“This is a starting point for discussion,” said Winslow architect Peter Brachvogel. “We want to create some momentum for the project, and give people the opportunity to talk about something germane to the way we live here.”

Brachvogel’s preliminary sketches show the present maintenance building – one of the largest structures on Bainbridge – restored and converted into a combination of art spaces and maritime-related uses.

He envisions a boat haulout, with a marine railway to move vessels into a shed near the present pedestrian walkway on the north side of the property, where passersby could watch boats being serviced. That corner was the site of a haulout facility until the state condemned the land in 1995.

The plan calls for a marina – there, instead of at Waterfront Park – and shops to service boaters.

On the west edge, closest to Waterfront Park, Brachvogel has sketched in a small hotel and conference center, with 60 to 100 units and meeting space for 150.

And on the southeast corner of the peninsula, where the present boat-storage pier is now located, he sees a restaurant, perhaps a vintage vessel being docked and a water taxi service offering tours of the harbor and cross-harbor runs to the Japanese exclusion memorial on the harbor’s south shore.

The driving force behind the meeting is the Bainbridge Island Boaters Association, a group formed by Chandlery owner Bob Schoonmaker. The challenge, he said, is that while Bainbridge has an inviting harbor for boaters and a quaint, attractive downtown for visitors, there is little activity.

“I’m sort of at the end of the line for people who walk off the ferry, down Winslow Way and into the harbor area,” he said. “They come in and say, ‘It’s very nice, but what can we do?’”

What backers envision is a densely packed, highly urbanized area with a lot going on, an energy that they believe can radiate throughout downtown Winslow.

“This should bang right into downtown, and be part of everything,” Brachvogel said.

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy applauds the planning that is going on, but wants to see input from a broad section of the community.

“This has some appeal for boaters, but we need a full understanding of what this means from the land side,” she said, noting that the plan’s impacts would extend into Winslow, raising questions over parking and competition with downtown merchants.

Bainbridge Island City Council member Bill Knobloch, who has been involved with the group for some time, is enthusiastic.

“A community groundswell is being developed,” he said. “My goal originally was to develop a marina, but with the possibility of the ferry yard moving, we are taking a comprehensive look at integrating the marina into a larger plan.”

Knobloch said the group has had informal talks with a marina developer, while Brachvogel has spoken with groups that might be interested in a hotel and conference center.

One potential obstacle is that the plan is not consistent with present zoning. Another is access: at present, that’s Harborview Drive, intermittently blocked by ferry traffic on Olympus Way. Knobloch said neither of those are deal-killers.

“Considering the scope of what we would be trying to do, the council has indicated to me informally that they would look at changing the zoning. And I think there are a number of possible approaches to the congestion problem,” Knobloch said, adding that he would not categorically rule out an auto road across the ravine.

The imponderable at this point is whether WSF will adopt consultant Wade Watson’s recommendations to move the maintenance yard.

“We’re probably six to eight months away from making that decision,” said Russ East, WSF director of terminal engineering.

Watson’s report suggested that relocating to either Todd Shipyards or Pier 91 could be less expensive than rebuilding the aging Eagle Harbor facility, and that operating and travel costs would be less.

“We have a small team now that is taking an in-depth look at those factors,” East said.

He stressed that WSF would not simply give away its Eagle Harbor property. WSF’s preliminary estimate is that the property would have a $5.5 million purchase value, or a $500,000 annual lease value – money the cash-strapped system would need to finance the move.

He also said that WSF would likely need to maintain in-water vessel storage on the harbor.

“My guess right now is that we’re a little more likely to move than not move, but that we would probably retain some capacity there,” he said. “We are working through the permutations of what we would keep on Bainbridge, and whether we could free up enough land to realize the financial return we need.”

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