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Could Winslow stand a tourist infusion?

A consultant urges the community to take advantage of dollars from visitors.

It may be a pact made in hell, but a little “Carmelization” could be a godsend for Winslow.

“Tourism, it’s the devil’s bargain, but Bainbridge should seriously consider it,” said Boulder, Colo.-based urban planner Jim Charlier at a Winslow Tomorrow event Tuesday.

“Some places have sold their souls to tourism. But the choice is tougher than ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Tourism may have its ups and downs, but Winslow could probably make a lot of money in this.”

Charlier, a transportation planning professional with 31 years of experience in local, regional and statewide settings, has been retained by the city to undertake a study of access and circulation in the Winslow area.

His comments came during a workshop in which participants discussed their own transportation habits.

Blessed with attractive natural features, close proximity to Seattle and a pleasant downtown, tourism will likely grow into a guiding force in Winslow’s future, Charlier said.

His comments were met with a few quiet gasps and grumbles from the crowd. They’ve seen T-shirt shops, expensive boutiques, trendy restaurants and copious entertainment offerings swamp and reshape other small communities, such as Aspen, Colo. and Carmel, Calif.

Some recent transplants from towns “charmed” to death have prophesied Bainbridge may soon be “Carmelized.”

“I left because I watched (Carmel) destroy itself by people who wanted tourism,” said self-described “Carmel refugee” Glenna Teti at a previous Winslow Tomorrow event. “I don’t want to see Bainbridge go that way.”

But it doesn’t have to – and it shouldn’t, Charlier said.

“These places are incredibly unreal and the people who work there often can’t (afford to) live there,” he said. “Aspen used to be a wonderful old mining town, but it has gone way over on the devil’s bargain scale.”

Rather than cater to tourists, the island should focus on pleasing residents, Charlier recommended. Planning should continue to make downtown more walkable, bikeable and easy to navigate.

Winslow Way businesses should focus on a balance of shops that cater to both residents and visitors while keeping an aesthetic that fits locals’ tastes. This will, in turn, keep downtown vital and attract a steady flow of tourists.

The natives know best anyway, said a woman at the event. When she travels and is looking for a good place to eat, she sets her sights on where the locals gather.

“We always ask a local because we know those will be the best places,” she said.

“We on Bainbridge should please ourselves first because people who come here will want to go to the places where people are comfortable and having fun.”

Charlier offered his hometown of Boulder as a good example of this type of balance.

“Boulder’s been very strategic,” he said. “It’s a very fun place downtown. It’s our second living room.”

A pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined shopping center in Boulder attracts its fair share of tourists, but still caters to locals.

Boulder residents make up about 40 percent of pedestrians walking the mall on a typical day, he said.

The dollars squeezed out of visitors help to maintain the very amenities locals enjoy.

“We take money from tourists so we can have parks and bike trails,” he said. “People from all over, even people from Bainbridge, come down to Boulder and help us pay for the things that we want.”

Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Dwyer agrees that island businesses should keep the welcome mat out for locals.

At the same time, Bainbridge can filter out the evils of a tourism-backed economy with strong rules designating where certain types of businesses can locate on the island, he said.

“Many businesses downtown and throughout the island use tourists to complete their bottom lines,” he said. “But stores should, first and foremost, serve local people.

“If they attract tourists, that’s just gravy.”

Tourists seem to be ladling it on thick. They chipped in $55,000 just from the lodging tax last year. That’s up 9 percent from 2003.

Local merchants and the city also count on additional boosts in sales and tax money during the summer months and special events, such as the upcoming Grand Old 4th of July celebration, which is expected to draw as many as 35,000 people.

Tourist spending generated about $11,000 in sales tax revenue for the city in 2003, according to the Bainbridge Island Lodging Association.

Just because they’re a ready source of cash doesn’t necessarily mean the island should welcome regular bus- and cruise ship-mounted invasions.

“People stop me in the street all the time saying, ‘please, please don’t bring tour buses to Bainbridge,’” said Bainbridge Downtown Association Executive Director Cris Beattie. “That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not soliciting conventions or large tour operators. Tourism will always be a part of downtown, but we serve the island’s needs.

“That’s our appeal. We make the island a sparkling gem in Puget Sound by keeping it focused on our community.”

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