Letters to the Editor

Economic times call for a delay of Winslow Way project | Letters, Dec. 20

(Editor's note: The following letter, written by island developer John Green, was emailed to City Council Chair Bill Knobloch earlier this week, prior to the council's official approval Wednesday of the 2009 budget Capital Facilities Plan, which includes the Winslow Way construction project.)

To Bill Knobloch:

Although I have addressed this to you, I really want all council members to be informed. I have equal respect for all members and want to comment on this very delicate subject.

I have been in business for myself since 1974! I have had my difficulties and successes, and in the course of many years, I have gained a lot of experience in “when to hold and when to fold,” or I could say, “When to spit and when to wind my watch”

I spent about 20 years in the garment industry in retail and wholesale operations before coming to Bainbridge from Los Angeles in 1993. I invested in real estate development shortly after that time.

In reference to the column ("Budget reflects city's responsibility," Dec. 13) by council member Chris Snow, I will address the Winslow Way project, and specifically "economic developments that impact city revenue,” as Snow wrote.

Let us set aside discussion on monies from the state and private funds, as I fully believe these will not go away, as Chris has indicated. The state understands the extreme financial difficulties facing us all locally, not to mention those coming out of Washington, D.C.

Renegotiate those funding sources, using liberal amounts of common sense and good manners. An approach and argument you will probably get plenty of respect for in the end, not only from the state, but also from the private sector, the community. Keep in mind that you will probably be eligible for the infrastructure funds, now being discussed by the Obama team.

The alternative is not an option, as I will explain.

The impact to the community is going to come in severe loss of retail and commercial business, not only along Winslow Way, but also in the surrounding streets common to Winslow Way.

Construction of this magnitude in the current and projected economic downturn will force some business owners to close their doors, and others to suffer unnecessarily in order to maintain status quo.

We must think of this probable disastrous effect, not only on the individuals, but also on the entire community.

The retailers nationwide are struggling through this holiday period.

In 2009, they will continue to struggle for at least the first three quarters, then hold their breath and pray through the end of the year.

Having gone through two years of a very weak retail sales by the end of 2009, I expect about one-third of our downtown retailers and businesses to close their doors, or downsize considerably.

I do see some improvements to the economy here on the island in building starts and permit applications during next summer. I say this because builders and developers will be looking to sell product in 2010-2011.

However, in the downtown retail district, they will be looking at 2010 as potential and much needed recovery time. In short, hoping to put behind them the prior two years of plummeting sales.

Not so I say, because here comes the Winslow Way project in the spring of 2010. Another year of business interruption and probable loss, kicking them when they are down. And why not?

While they are down, remind them who is in charge, and their importance to the overall stability of our downtown region.

I look at this scenario in 2010 as preventable. We need the core business district, as it is the gateway and heart of our community. We need to support our fellow citizens, because in the end they build equity for the community. We do not need empty storefronts and huge “sale” signs. We need the jobs downtown, and the support from our citizens to continue to do business locally.

In the current and projected economic markets, there may never be another time than today for concerted leadership from our local government. We must ask all of you to put aside your differences, leave personal agendas at the door and pull together as a team.

I am personally asking all of you to look at this future commitment very carefully. I believe you can reach the right decision – a long-term economically sound decision. A decision the entire community can live with over the next few very challenging years.

I could stand at the back of Council Chambers on my chair, waving my arms and shouting about the impending crisis, but I will keep restrained and polite, because I cannot get it all in, in the allotted three minutes.

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The heavy equipment that will show up on day one in spring 2010 will stun even the most optimistic and or jaded business owner. Keep in mind what they will have suffered through during 2008-09!

From the start, excavators will tear up the right-of-way to lay new pipe, while dump trucks back and fill continuously, hauling out the spoils and hauling in fill. The area under construction will be barricaded off, with flaggers directing traffic along one side of the street.

That is all going to take place on day one, week one!

Two trenches will be dug, one for water and the other for sewer. In the compacting process, once the pipe is in the ground, the vibrations from the machines doing the compaction will be evident by most, in the adjacent stores.

It is OK for the china and crystal to rattle on the display shelves, but it is another thing for the items to fall on the floor. When that happens, the phones at City Hall will start to ring, and the lawyers on the other end will be the only ones making good money from the misery of the retailers and business owners!

Under normal flourishing economic times, however, these incidents would only be bragging rights at Blackbird Bakery.

This will go on for weeks!

They certainly will have lively conversation, standing in line at the Post Office!

Sidewalks will be dug up and then rebuilt to grade. Storefronts may actually be damaged as a result.

Parking will be impacted, foot traffic will be impacted, and noise and dirt will reach a level currently not experienced by most folks. Storefronts will be dusty and interior floors lined with dirt tracked in by foot.

The contractor may elect to work only at night, but the extra cost will not warrant it!

Relief may come only on Saturday and Sunday, but that will probably be clean-up time for most retailers. The heavy equipment will still be sitting idle in the street, quiet, but a traffic eyesore just the same, and a reminder of who really runs the show. It all starts again, Monday morning.

As each ferry arrives, this exacerbation will increase until the traffic has dispersed, but in many cases the subsequent arrival of the next ferry, will just build and add to the choking effect. It would resemble the continuous traffic we now have – from the ferry terminal to the bridge – at daily close of business and holiday weekends.

Angry business owners at City Hall will be a result of not only the construction and traffic congestion, but also the prior two years of retail sales plummeting to record levels. They will certainly not admit to their business failures, as anything but the direct responsibility and actions of City Hall.

The one good side to the project will be the cost. Contractors and supply houses will be extremely competitive in their bids – too good to pass up, if you are looking just at the initial bottom line.

But the possibility of litigation could easily wipe out any savings by tenfold.

We have been there before, and appear to have not learned much!

I would suggest taking a poll of the downtown business owners, carefully explaining what is entailed and when the process will start. Also, remind them that they will continue to suffer economic hardship through 2010. Several of us will volunteer for the legwork.

Current retail and business revenues nationwide are at an all-time low. Just wait for the new numbers, post-holiday period.

Consultants may have painted council a much better picture, however keep in mind that it is a business for them (and the consultants), and they do not want to scare you way! They also have to make a living , even in hard times.

I, on the other hand have no invested or special interest, other than the long-term stability of the community.

The net cost to the expected city revenue during 2009-10, from these businesses, is difficult to put into scale. If a study has been done on the potential impact to the downtown business district, take that number and move the decimal point further to the right – several times.

In addition, the city may be faced with class-action lawsuits from desperate, struggling, angry and frustrated business owners. Keep that thought (lawsuits), in the forefront of your decision-making.

Under normal economic conditions, such as what we have been experiencing over the last decade, a project like this on Winslow Way – with the correct amount of funding and management – would be disruptive to local business but could be tolerated for the good of the community at large. Yes, the additional environmental proposals are more than welcome.

––––

These are not normal economic times.

Certainly not what we are familiar with.

We cannot rely on any manual or prior training for relief.

Nobel Prize-winning economists have been telling us this for a while.

Bill, as chair, you are at the helm. I am on deck, together with many others. We will lend assistance in order for safe return to the dock. Alternatively, we can all go below out of sight and of hearing range, and leave you to it. That's called mutiny... we all want to get back to port to sail again one day. We are now relying on you, and each other, for safe return.

I would like to make a motion:

Postpone this project, until we have at least three quarters of a rebounding government economic growth, or for a minimum of two years, until the City of Bainbridge Island can review the project accordingly.

Do I hear a second?

John Green.

Laughing Salmon Lane.

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