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Downtown shifting eastward

Gary and Midge Bullington of Bellevue imagine the view from their yet-to-be constructed condominium at the front of the Harbor Square development on Winslow Way. The couple, who purchased their unit on the second day of sales, were pleasantly surprised by the prospect of water and mountain vistas looking southeast.   - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Gary and Midge Bullington of Bellevue imagine the view from their yet-to-be constructed condominium at the front of the Harbor Square development on Winslow Way. The couple, who purchased their unit on the second day of sales, were pleasantly surprised by the prospect of water and mountain vistas looking southeast.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

Harbor Square puts 15,000 sq. ft. of new retail space on the Winslow market.

When a half-dozen or more retail storefronts open up across from the ferry terminal next year, will they be new faces or old?

And what of the prospect of – gasp – national chains?

Marketers for the Harbor Square mixed-use project say it’s too soon to know what names will be on the shingles over the sidewalk, but they’re looking for local businesses first.

“Right now, our goal is to really get in front of the Winslow merchants,” said Monica Wallace, retail leasing and sales agent for the Bellevue-based Wallace Properties.

Harbor Square this week began offering 15,020 square feet of retail space in three buildings that will front Winslow Way, between Cave and Ferncliff avenues. It will be the most significant infusion of new retail space in the downtown area in years.

Gary Blakeslee, project manager for developer Opus Corporation, said the goal is to find a mix of tenants with “synergy” and “local flavor.”

“Winslow Way as it exists stands as a beautiful example of retail that’s animated and interesting and vibrant,” Blakeslee said. “We want to extend that down the street in this direction.”

Opus also announced this week that more than half of Harbor Square’s 180 condominium units had been sold, and agents hoped to hit the 100 mark with sales this weekend.

The company marked its groundbreaking Thursday evening with a barbecue/hobnob for buyers on the recently cleared and rather dusty construction site.

Staked out around the 4.3-acre parcel were banners showing the positions of the various buildings, which will bear such waterfront-themed names as “Schooner,” “Starfish,” “Kayak,” “Sea Lion” and “Beach.”

Gary and Midge Bullington of Bellevue found the site of their forthcoming abode in the “Lighthouse” building at the front of the development.

Gary Bullington clambered onto the tread of a conveniently parked backhoe to get a better sense of his future view, and was pleasantly surprised by the vista of water and mountains before him, even from an elevation of just 4 feet.

“This is nicer than I thought, honey,” Bullington told his wife. “This is really nice.”

The Bullingtons purchased their unit on the second day of sales, unhappy with the opportunities they found around the Seattle waterfront.

“You have not a lot of choices (in Seattle), and a very different street environment,” Bullington said.

In Winslow, he said, “you don’t have the fear factor of crime on the street.”

While the Harbor Square project has been marketed in glossy publications far and wide, the sales office on Winslow Way continues to generate considerable foot traffic.

A number of visitors have inquired about the retail space, sales associate Janice Brown said, bringing up ideas including a maternity store, a wine shop, an ice cream store or a bike shop.

One gentleman from Oregon inquired about siting a restaurant there.

Patrick Condon, a Vancouver, B.C. professor of urban planning who has served as a consultant for the city’s Winslow Tomorrow effort was in town this week. He said comparable developments in his city have seen a similar range of retail eclectica.

“We’ve been surprised in Vancouver by the narrowness of the niches that have come to this kind of project,” he said, citing a “games for geeks” outlet as a quintessential example.

Condon suggested that a cafe would probably do well in the Harbor Square development, swept along by the bustle around the ferry terminal.

“There’s a lot of people (there), and people like to be looking at things even if it’s traffic,” Condon said.

Opus representatives spoke at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday, to get the retail opportunities in front of local businesses.

The Harbor Square buildings will be configured with interior spaces of 1,100 to 4,600 square feet, with six to 11 individual storefronts expected.

The retail space is being offered at $30-32 per square foot per year in a “triple-net” lease, meaning tenants are also responsible for taxes, insurance and maintenance of common areas.

By comparison, downtown Winslow commercial space is typically fetching $20-26.

“It’s based on economics,” Wallace said of the pricing. “It’s expensive to build the mixed-use retail space.”

But increasingly, Winslow’s existing commercial space comes at a premium.

Earlier this year, the retail vacancy rate was less than 1 percent, and a study commissioned by the city for Winslow Tomorrow suggested that the island needs 10,000 square feet of new retail space each year to keep up with the commercial demands of a growing population.

Lacking more offerings, local shoppers are likely to spend their dollars off-island, with such “leakage” already a significant economic problem, business leaders contend.

“I think the more retail offerings we have (it) creates more energy,” said Kevin Dwyer, Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce executive director. “In the long run, you need that. You need a wide variety of things to buy to keep people here.”

The Harbor Square retail frontage is being marketed for its visibility and proximity to the ferry terminal. Wallace said the spaces are an opportunity for existing businesses that want to expand, or for merchants who might want to try a new concept.

Whether the Harbor Square mix will include any nationally recognized outlets is unclear,

“Right now, we’re not actively targeting national chains,” Wallace said. “It’s going to come down to the market and what Bainbridge’s interest is.”

Blakeslee said David Nelson of the Bainbridge Island Windermere office will act as a “tenant’s agent” to negotiate terms with the property owner.

Opus, he said, wants commercial tenants that are long on acumen as well as concept.

“The last thing we want, and I’ve seen this happen, is that we put in a business with a great idea but no experience,” Blakeslee said. “They’re open for six months and then they fail, and you’ve got dark retail. That doesn’t serve anybody.”

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