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Seattle ferry dock to get a new look

Upgrade is part of concessions change.

Before the end of this year, Washington State Ferries will begin a remodeling project to convert the concrete drabness of the Colman Dock terminal into something more resembling an airport terminal – brighter, more consumer-friendly, and hopefully, a source of revenue to the cash-strapped system.

The $4 million face-lift will add as many as five new food-dispensing outlets to the present Starbucks, together with a newsstand and convenience store, all of which is intended to generate at least a half million per year in revenue for WSF.

“This is designed to offer some of the services and amenities that our riders have told us they want,” said ferry system spokesperson Patricia Patterson. “We hope to have some sort of coffee vendor, a bookstore, food, and a small market where people can pick up things they need going to and from work.”

The plan is part of a total overhaul of WSF’s concessions, which are presently handled exclusively by Sodexho of Seattle. WSF last week issued requests for proposal to other vendors, and hopes to attract an array of bids that will diversify the present range of offerings.

“We are telling people what spaces we have available, and asking them what they suggest,” said Patterson. “We want to get away from a vending-machine type of operation, and tap into the expertise of companies that offer these kind of services.”

At Colman Dock, WSF plans to greatly expand the present “free” area on the east side of the terminal, before going through the ticket window or otherwise presenting a ticket.

The office area behind Starbucks will be eliminated, so walk-on passengers taking the Merion Street overpass will enter the building at the end of the footbridge, rather than use the walkway outside the building. That area will be lined with food and beverage vendors, and contain the newsstand/convenience store pencilled tentatively at 2,580 square feet.

The ticket booths will be moved to the south side of that central court, and a temporary wall will be erected where the booths are presently located containing a ticket-collection point.

“This will be a temporary update,” Patterson said, “before the complete, permanent rebuilding that will take place in the next ten years to replace a facility that is pretty old.”

WSF also plans to offer concessions in the auto-waiting area.

“We are not only aiming at the daily commuters, but want to offer tourist-oriented merchandise as well,” Patterson said. “We think tourism is a huge untapped market for us.”

She also said WSF is looking at making improvements of a similar nature at the Bainbridge terminal, which she called “high on our radar.”

“There is so much space over there,” she said. “There is opportunity not only for food, but for arts and crafts.”

The shift away from Sodexho has been controversial because that company’s on-board employees are members of the Inland Boatman’s Union. WSF has refused to limit the bidding for replacement concessionaires to union-shop firms, nor has it guaranteed that the present workers will enjoy any sort of hiring preference.

The union has pointed out that the Sodexho employees are all trained in maritime rescue operations, and claim that eliminating employees with that training increases the safety risks.

Patterson denies that union membership will be diminished, and does not believe that the present workers will lose their jobs.

“WSF anticipates that vendors with unionized workers will have a strong interest in bidding this contract,” she said.

Inland Boatman’s Union Regional Director Jeff Engels, whose office is on the waterfront in Seattle, was not pleased by WSF’s decision not to protect his workers.

“We’re upset that they didn’t include any provision for preferential hiring,” he said. “We have many long-term employees who live over there on the (Kitsap) Peninsula. We think (WSF is) throwing these employees to the wolves.”

Engels said the union has not given up the fight.

“I want the people of Kitsap County to know we are going to continue to fight for these jobs,” he said. “Everything we’ve done up to this point has been all nice. But we’re going to look at every resource now. We’re outraged. It looks like they want a war and if they do, they’ve got one.”

Patterson disputed the union’s contention that WSF was throwing anybody to the wolves.

“First of all, I think it’s really unfair to characterize it as throwing all food service workers out of a job,” she said. “The new vendors are going to need experienced workers. Good (current) workers shouldn’t have a problem.

“We’re trying to encourage a couple of things here,” Patterson added.

“It’s a a whole new way of doing business, and, is it the government’s role to dictate to private companies who their employees should be? We don’t think it is.”

Kitsap County reporter Dennis Wilken contributed to this report.

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