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Grand new plans for downtown

If everyone cooperates, it may be possible to create a downtown parking garage, a new retail corridor, a welcoming gateway into Winslow and provide for major expansion by both Town and Country and the Virginia Mason clinic – all while avoiding the need to tear up Winslow Way.

So says architect and planner Bill Isley, after taking a first pass at downtown planning on behalf of a new Winslow property owners’ association.

“This is a holistic view of downtown, looking at the issues of utilities, traffic circulation and parking simultaneously,” Isley said.

Isley will present what he calls his preliminary concept or alternatives – it’s not yet sufficiently concrete to constitute a plan – to the Bainbridge City Council at 6 p.m. tonight at City Hall.

Major features of Isley’s concept include:

l Turning the Unocal property on the southwest corner of Winslow Way and the highway into a public park – “a plaza with open space, sculpture and monumentation welcoming people into Winslow and Bainbridge Island”;

l Re-routing Bjune Drive to the west, between Town & Country and the Johansson-Clark real estate office;

l Building a roundabout where the realigned Bjune, Ericksen Avenue and Winslow Way intersect;

l Making a public street out of the alleyways west of the clinic and behind the businesses on the north side of Winslow Way, which would join with Madrone Lane;

l Building a multi-use, multi-story structure on the north side of that alley, in what is now an unpaved portion of City Hall parking. Amenities would include ground-floor retail, two levels of parking and one or two stories of residential structures above that, a use Isley believes may be valuable enough to pay for much of the parking structure.

“This envisions a very dense shopping core, with lots of pedestrian connections and back alleys,” Isley said.

Isley’s concept is an early draft of the planning he is doing at the behest of downtown property owners, who have formally organized in an effort to present a “business-friendly” proposal to the city.

The concept does not yet have the formal endorsement of the property owners. Isley said he has approached some of them, but not all, and that no consensus has been reached.

“This is just a presentation of some possible alternatives,” he said.

In that regard, Isley has outlined some expansion possibilities for both the clinic and T&C, both of which have stressed the need for future flexibility if they are to remain downtown.

“They want to make sure that whatever we do, their options are not compromised,” Isley said.

For the clinic, Isley suggests possible expansion onto the lot on Ericksen presently occupied by Exotic Aquatics, together with an underground parking garage.

T&C could double its size, he said, by building a two-story parking structure that wraps around the rear and both sides of the present store, then putting the store on top of that, with the various levels connected by an elevator.

“Downtown land is getting valuable enough that costs about the same to build a parking structure as it does to buy land for parking,” Isley said, “which makes some of these ideas possible.”

Isley envisions Bjune Drive cutting north from Waterfront Park immediately to the east of Town & Country. The present street could be reduced to a one-lane road going north, which could provide some room for parking and could allow the Streamliner Diner to expand.

While Bjune and Ericksen still wouldn’t be directly across from each other, they would be close enough to be joined by a roundabout, which would eliminate stop signs on either of those streets or Winslow Way.

“That could solve the flow-through problem,” Isley said. “The city is preparing a traffic model, and once it does that, we can test the roundabout concept and see if it works.”

The new “street” to the north of Winslow Way is important not only for access, Isley said, but also as a location for underground power lines to replace the poles presently on the north side of Winslow Way.

“Businesses on the north side can’t expand unless the power lines are moved, because they’re already too close to the transformers,” he said. And if the lines are buried under a public street, Puget Sound Energy will pay 60 percent of the costs, he said.

Perhaps most important, Isley believes it may be possible to make those changes without tearing up and totally rebuilding Winslow Way between Ericksen and Madison Avenue, a project the business community fears could be ruinous.

Isley said new technology exists that would allow new sewer pipes to be inserted into existing pipes without digging up the street. The need to replace leaking sewer lines has been cited as the principal need for the rebuild.

“If you can do that, and can do the utilities one at a time, you might be able to get by with repaving Winslow Way, or only shutting down small sections, rather than the full reconstruction that would cause massive disruption.”

Isley said he hasn’t yet reached the point where he can begin estimating costs, but is optimistic that the cost to island taxpayers could be no more than the planned costs to rebuild Winslow Way, roughly $5 million.

“We need cooperation from a lot of people – the business people, the property owners and the city,” he said. “But other than this, we don’t have room to expand dramatically – there is no place else to go.”

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