City Council, port officials rowing in same direction

In the future, a day at the beach could look a lot different in Port Orchard.

The City Council held a work session Tuesday night that included an hourlong discussion with Port of Bremerton officials about short-term plans and long-term visions for improving the city’s waterfront.

The most immediate change in store is expanding the port district’s Marina Park, which includes the gazebo where summer Fathoms O’ Fun concerts are held and the popular children’s playground.

The port district has funding and most of the required permits to start developing the area east of the park. Two rental houses and more than 100 pilings will be removed, an observation deck will be built above the shoreline, and the expanded park will encompass the area east of the playground between Bay Street and the water all the way to a waterfront apartment building across from the Golden Grill on the Bay restaurant.

Port Commissioner Larry Stokes noted that area has a nice sandy beach that visitors might prefer to the rockier beach on the edge of the existing park. The new park area also will have public access from the east and west.

The city hopes to contribute a smaller share of funding that will allow merging plans for extending the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway with the Marina Park expansion.

Beyond that joint project, which should be completed this year, council members and port officials talked about cooperating to develop a master plan for future recreational and commercial development on the waterfront.

Councilman Jerry Childs said he hoped the discussion with their port district counterparts would “create a vision for the whole waterfront area.”

The sharing of visions for the waterfront’s future included offering kayak rentals at the marina, having more green space and less pavement, renovating some of the vacant buildings on Bay Street for new uses, and possibly working out an arrangement with Kitsap Transit to provide passenger ferry service on Sundays to bring in more visitors to weekend events.

“We really have a diamond in the rough down there on the waterfront,” said longtime councilman John Clauson, who is executive director of Kitsap Transit.

There was also talk about developing a distinctive theme for the waterfront and Port Orchard. Commissioner Roger Zabinski said marketing the Port Orchard Marina is an essential part of spurring economic development that will benefit the port district and the city.

The rosy visions were tempered a bit when the issue of parking came up. There was consensus that the parking lot that stretches from next to the gazebo all the way to Kitsap Bank is the least attractive element of the waterfront scene, but recognition that a parking solution will be needed if the goal is to draw more people to the area.

Still, the spirit of cooperation carried the day.

“Everything you do to enhance the waterfront makes our activity better,” Jessie Turner, who works with Fathoms O’ Fun, told the group.

“We want to work cohesively with the city to the best of our ability,” said Axel Strakeljahn, who was elected to the port commission in November.

Steve Slaton, the port district’s director of marine facilities, said cooperation on the park and trail expansion “is an interval step to putting together a master waterfront plan.”

Everyone seemed to want to keep the momentum from Tuesday’s joint meeting going.

“I’m really hoping this project will be the first of many partnerships,” Childs said.

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