Sandy Fischer likes to get things built.
That was understood from the day she was hired in to manage the Winslow Tomorrow downtown planning initiative. With a resume of E-ticket civic redevelopment projects in private employ, she was bound to chafe a bit at the pace of public-sector work – on this island, a road fraught with speed bumps, roadblocks and sinkholes.
“What I finally came to was, they paid me to be impatient, that was part of my job,” Fischer said this week, looking back on her three-year tenure as downtown planning czar. “I didn’t know how to deal with it for a while, but I finally developed a sense of humor. I said, ‘that’s what they pay me to do – be impatient.’”
Ironically, Fischer won’t see so much as a spade of dirt turned on downtown improvements before she returns to the private sector. In that sense, her stint with the city was a couple of years premature. But as Winslow Tomorrow moves forward – and it will – her fingerprints will still be all over the results.
“You almost can’t give her too much credit for getting it going,” said one veteran of the Community Congress that helped re-imagine downtown. “We’d have citizen meetings that were typical Bainbridge Island, full of sound and fury but little else. She would come back the next week and say, ‘this is what we did at the last meeting.’ We’d all say, ‘Yeah, that looks good – and if we didn’t do it, we should have.’”
Some connected with the planning effort express private concern that the departure of Fischer could lead to a crisis of confidence among citizens or the City Council, and a reflexive move to “step back and see where we’re at.” Others say Fischer’s timing is fine, and that a new champion could invigorate the project. The recent selection of Greg Byrne as the city’s planning director seems auspicious; with a good track record in long-term planning, he’ll oversee Winslow Tomorrow until a new manager is found.
While code changes to encourage more intense development downtown keep some goals in the realm of the speculative, skeptics can put away the jokes about “Winslow Forever” (the project’s length) and “Winslow Never” (the prospect that anything will get built). This coming week, the City Council will take up the long-proposed downtown parking garage, the linchpin of efforts to keep our shopping district full of customers. Too, the city has selected a project manager and engineering firm for the reconstruction of Winslow Way – a necessary project that will incorporate the urban design principles Sandy Fischer helped put into our civic discussion.
Fischer will still be participating as island citizen and perhaps as a consultant from the private sphere, where she’s probably more at home anyway. “They move faster and make decisions more quickly, and if you perform, you are rewarded financially,” she said. “That’s not the nature of government.”
That, not even she could change.
• Ann Lovejoy’s work with local blood drives was misstated in a March 14 editorial. Lovejoy is a long-time donor, and also does volunteer registration for drives.