A string of four historic storefronts on Winslow’s main drag sole shot at survival hinges on the construction of a new hotel behind the buildings.
That was the big takeaway at the Bainbridge planning commission’s last meeting, where the developers of the proposed hotel introduced themselves — and their project — to the community during a city-mandated open house.
“These properties are deteriorating,” said Dale R. Sperling, CEO and founder of OneBuild, Inc., a Seattle-based development firm.
“If we don’t do something to try to preserve them, we will lose them,” Sperling said.
The hotel is planned for 424/440 Winslow Way, and developers said they will preserve four historic buildings on Bainbridge’s main street as part of their plans to construct a 40-room “boutique” hotel.
The four turn-of-the-last-century storefronts on the north side on the town’s main street near the Winslow Ravine — built between 1890 through 1910 — once housed the Winslow Post Office and, further west, the Irving Grocery Store.
The properties are owned by Marcia Wicktom and W.M. and James Lowery, and Sperling said OneBuild has a contract to buy the properties, and the hotel is still in the feasibility stage.
Sperling began his overview of the hotel project by bringing the discussion home to Bainbridge.
He noted that he has lived on the island for 45 years, and his wife, Carol, has been longtime member of the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and was part of the capital campaign to raise money for the 36-acre Hilltop property.
“We have a combination of a tree-hugger, and a real estate guy,” Sperling said. “And for the last 49 years, it’s worked pretty well.”
Though the old-time storefronts on the property are historically significant, they aren’t architecturally exceptional, Sperling said.
But they’re important in a time-and-sense way.
“They speak Bainbridge. They speak Winslow,” Sperling said. “And when it’s the gateway to downtown Winslow, I think it’s important to try to preserve these buildings and save the character of Winslow.”
The hotel would be tucked behind the existing buildings, with the two-story building that’s farthest west becoming the hotel’s lobby.
“It would be a unique, Bainbridge-centric, Bainbridge-focused, small boutique hotel,” Sperling said.
He said the property would be operated by Seattle-based Columbia Hospitality, which also runs the Inn at Langley, the Salish Lodge & Spa in Snoqualmie, Friday Harbor House, Icicle Village Resort in Leavenworth and more than 20 other hotels in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Arizona and Hawaii.
“This is not a chain. It is a hotel operator that focuses on smaller operations,” Sperling said.
He also said the developer was hoping to use a local contractor, and local artisans, on the project.
“The whole idea here is to make this a special Bainbridge little jewel box,” he added.
The hotel would be pedestrian-oriented, and hopes to capture some of the ferry walk-on passengers who visit the island, as well as some who come to Seattle and need a place to stay before they board a cruise ship.
The cruise industry, for example, brings 35,000 passengers per week to Puget Sound.
Unlike the other hotel proposal currently seeking approval from the city — the 87-room Winslow Hotel at the opposite end of downtown — the proposal for the boutique hotel would not feature a bar, restaurant or event spaces.
The hotel project, Sperling said, is proposed for land that’s zoned for the most intense development on the island.
The project is crucial to the preservation and renovation of the existing historic storefronts, he said, adding that they were “in poor physical condition.”
A building inspector who has done approximately 900 inspections over the past 30 years examined the buildings, he added, and “had never come across a set of buildings that were in such tough condition.”
“If we don’t preserve these now, they will fall down. And the current owners don’t have the resources to try to refurbish or redevelop this property,” he said.
The top floor of the two-story building on the property, Sperling added, has been vacant for the past 50 years.
“We want this to be an amenity for Bainbridge,” he said.
Islanders at the meeting raised concerns about added traffic and parking impacts in the downtown area from the hotel, and some nearby neighbors questioned whether the height of the hotel would block their courtyard from the sun.
Others supported the idea of preserving the historic buildings, while some asked about potential construction noise, or opposed “Seattle-type” development that extends all the way to the property line.
Hotel proponents said the project would abide by the city’s regulations on noise. And on the issue of building right up to the property line, they noted that the original development of the property, when the buildings were constructed more than a hundred years ago, were built right next to each other.