Some thrive, some just get by -- Rose

Jon Rose walks his daughter Emily, 11, to the neighborhood’s school bus stop. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Jon Rose walks his daughter Emily, 11, to the neighborhood’s school bus stop.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Jon Rose loves small towns so much, he runs one – it’s called Port Gamble.

Jon Rose knows a little something about breathing new life into small towns.

The island resident is, after all, the president of one.

“Port Gamble was rotting five years ago,” said Rose, who leads Olympic Property Group, the company that owns the former mill town. “But we’ve tripled Port Gamble’s financial health in the past five years. We’ve done that by a real focused effort and centered revitalization around a theme.”

Like a town caught in the sap from over 150 years of lumber production, Port Gamble appears preserved in time. Many of the town’s key buildings remain: the community hall, a fraternal lodge, a general store, a steepled church and many of the little plank houses that served generations of mill workers.

The mill itself, however, was shut down in 1995. The town’s heartbeat faded quickly after the mill was closed, spurring Rose’s search for a new economic pulse.

“We found it in tourism,” he said of Port Gamble’s new identity as a “day trip” destination. “We found a theme and it’s now a cohesive business unit, with a chocolate shop, a spa, a florist and a place to have English high tea.”

Port Gamble, Rose said, has a few lessons Bainbridge can learn from.

“Find a tangible identity, your natural strengths, your economic purpose, social purpose,” he said. “And move very, very quickly.”

In the four years Rose has lived on the island, he’s observed an “above average divisiveness” among residents on issues of growth and economic progress.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “It makes business people suspicious of social efforts. It makes business people tend to feel isolated and unwelcome. But local businesses contribute so much to what this community is.”

Rose was born in Chicago, raised in Connecticut, went to college in Vermont and lived for many years in Seattle and Poulsbo. He and his wife, Lisa, moved to the island in 2002 so that their three children could attend quality schools and enjoy an array of parks and green spaces.

The island’s proximity to Seattle, where Lisa works as a nurse, and Poulsbo, where Rose’s company is based, also made sense for the family’s move.

As a relative newcomer, Rose can see “the forest for the trees” in the “growth vs. no growth” debate he believes is stagnating positive change.

“Half the island says, ‘Good God, no more tourism,’” he said. “But they want good restaurants. Look how many restaurants turn over. Having 16,000 people on the island who will go eat out is not enough to get four-star restaurants.”

As Rose has witnessed in Port Gamble, out-of-towners with ready wallets can bulwark a small town economy while offering cultural and recreational opportunities for locals.

“Tourism keeps shops open,” he said. “The lesson is that, yes, we may be more like Carmel – but those tourists go home on the weekend and leave new money, vitality and energy here.”

A common distrust of all things above two stories in downtown Winslow is also largely misguided, Rose said.

Rose believes adding density downtown can open new business opportunities while boosting the island’s social and economic diversity.

“It gets more affordable the more you add density,” he said. “It can be done with great architecture and fit the town. It’s not as simple as growth vs. no growth.”

Growth befitting the island’s values and character, he said, can be had in partnership with the local business community.

“You don’t see them celebrated,” he said. “There are businesses here that supply the look and feel and tone of this community. It should be easier to do business.”

Rose is aware that such declarations are easy to say for someone who runs a town unencumbered by elected officials, citizen committees or even other landowners.

For Port Gamble, “the level of divisiveness is zero,” he said. “As owners of the town, we can decide on a theme and don’t have to debate it endlessly.”

Still, Rose believes planning and growth could run more smoothly on the island. According to Rose, islanders tend to conduct exhaustive community debates over issues. Once a collective decision is made, he said, islanders often go back and debate the issue all over again.

“We should have the debate, but then move on from the naysayers,” he said. “Once a decision is made, there should be no hand-wringing, no crippling insecurities.”

While islanders may at times move with the grace of a mule, Rose is quick to credit residents for building a community he plans to never leave.

“I love living here,” he said. “We came here for the schools’ reputation, for the test scores, and we liked the investment in parks and open spaces.”

Rose was also attracted to Bainbridge by his sense that islanders are “densely layered” people with a range of experiences, travels and degrees under their belts.

“Bainbridge is suburbia, absolutely,” he said. “If you’re urban, you’ve got to find pavement and a cell tone at all times. If you’re rural and you went somewhere that’s urban, you’d wonder how you got there and wet your pants.

“Here, we get the rural and the urban sides of the rainbow. It’s a place where we can raise our kids in relative safety, in a beautiful place” and still take a short ferry ride to Seattle “where you can see some theater that will pull your heart out of your chest.

“It would take a lot to get me to move off. I can’t imagine it.”

* * * * *


These two profiles are part of an ongoing series on Bainbridge families and individuals, coinciding with a new project called Islandwise that’s looking for shared community values. To get involved in fireside chats on community values and vision, call Dwight Sutton at 842-3011.

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