Merchants lobby for Ericksen, Hildebrand connection

A petition drive on store counters reaps 400 signatures.

In past years, when the question of joining Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane has come up, officials have usually heard from one constituency: Ericksen residents saying “no.”

Now they’re hearing from another: Hildebrand merchants and customers saying “yes.”

The dynamic between residential and commercial interests came into relief this week, when the City Council was presented with petitions bearing some 400 signatures, calling for a formal connection between the two Winslow streets. Signatures were primarily gathered on the counters of Hildebrand businesses.

“There is a need we’ve heard, to deal with this pretty quickly,” said Kevin Dwyer, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the petition.

Long simmering, the issue heated up last month when Seattle’s Joshua Green Corp., owners of the 901 Hildebrand building, chained off a popular bypass through the Frontier Bank parking lot.

The move effectively cut off Hildebrand – a burgeoning commercial corridor, to which tens of thousands of square feet of new retail and office space have been added in recent years – from downtown. Motorists instead must use the highway or Madison Avenue; the latter brings its own challenges, particularly when nearby schools let out.

Jerry Clark, owner of Silver Screen Video, is one of several merchants urging the city to reconsider a connection.

“Let’s put it this way: I support doing something,” Clark said. “With...(the owners) closing that property off, the traffic flow to downtown is horrible. If you try to go north on Madison at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, you sometimes have 30 or 40 cars backed up going through the circle.”

Winslow Paint owner Mary Hall agreed, saying that the connection wouldn’t necessarily preclude green space between the streets.

“I think if it’s done the right way, we can still enjoy that special environmental beauty that’s there, and have a road there too,” Hall said.

Under a recently adopted islandwide transportation plan, public works officials were directed not to consider a connection until specifically told to do so by the council. But the council’s public works committee discussed the connection at its last meeting and will do so again next week.

Both Hall and Clark said that a connection wouldn’t necessarily help their own businesses.

“(Customers) have to get to us,” Hall said. “It’s not, ‘oh well, we’ll go to the other paint store.’ I feel that customers will get to us, (although) it might be a more circuitous route.”

But she professed concern for other fledgling businesses in the Hildebrand corridor – citing a furniture store that just opened there – while Clark suggested there’s a bigger picture still.

“If we don’t get people downtown, I think we run the risk of becoming a tourist town,” Clark said. “It’s a living breathing town, should stay that way.”

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