The heart of Manchester?

"A piece of land currently sitting vacant and overgrown with weeds in Manchester could be the site of a new community center if a group of local volunteers have their way.Members of a seven-month-old committee submitted a proposal to Kitsap County Commissioners Feb. 26 requesting help in procuring three lots of unoccupied residential/commercial land at the intersection of Colchester Drive and Main Street to build a community center in Manchester.Commissioners are currently reviewing the proposal and nothing has been solidified, but Commissioner Jan Angel said the idea is promising. It would make a beautiful town center, she said.The Manchester Community Center Committee is proposing a 6,180-square-foot facility with a large main auditorium, two smaller auditoriums, restrooms, a kitchen and storage and office space.About 1,000 square feet with an additional 600-square-foot loft would be available to rent as retail space, for something like a business office or a coffee shop.Decorative concrete blocks would be laid on the grounds outside the center, surrounded by raised flower beds. Overhead wires would be removed to create the feeling of a European town square. We want to preserve the open space, said committee member Nicholas Skalabrin. It will be completely surrounded by raised flower beds, like an Italian piazza.The committee envisions the center being rented for weddings, community events and festive gatherings. Barbecue grills could be set up in the square during celebrations like the Fourth of July and the Manchester street festival.The community center would take a step toward realizing a vision of a Manchester Village - a concept for a town center boasting a pier, Pomeroy park, the Manchester Library, some restaurants and a market and the recently proposed community center. To reach that goal, committee members are proposing the county work with them through a public-private partnership.Under such an agreement, the county would pay up front for the land and the committee would pay the county back 50 percent.But there are still some uncertainties surrounding the project.The land is currently selling for about $269,000 for the three lots. However, if county commissioners agree to pursue the partnership, the land would have to be re-assessed since the former owners provided some cleanup at the site - which was once the home of a gas station. The assessed value is low because it hasn't been re-assessed, Angel said.If the county decided to pursue it and once the land was re-assessed, the county would then have to find the funds to pay up-front for the property. The key is we'd have to find the money to do that, Angel said. They've done their homework. They put a nice package together. Next would be to see if and when we could fund it.Skalabrin said if the county can come through and acquire the land, the committee would seek grant money from a variety of sources, from the federal government to private groups, to pay back its portion of the land procurement, ideally within a year. The county ultimately would own the land, but, under the proposal, would lease it back to the association for $1 for 99 years.To pay for the center itself, the committee plans to take out a loan and repay it over time with money generated at the center. To that end, the center would have to be self-sufficient.In a preliminary budget, the committee estimated monthly revenues of about $1,500 for rental of two apartments that will be built in the upper story of the center, $1,067 for the retail space, $1,000 for hall rentals, and $800 in activities fees. Skalabrin said the revenue estimates presented in the preliminary budget are conservative.The two 1,000-square-foot apartments upstairs would be considered luxury units with a view of the bay and would rent for at least $750 each. Rent for the apartments would generate some revenue for the center and would provide a constant evening and night-time presence in downtown Manchester to curb a problem with petty crime, like vandalism and underaged drinking. The apartments would have a private entrance separate from the community center and would be sound-proofed, Skalabrin said. He added they wouldn't be built over the main auditorium to further insulate them from noise.The committee is projecting monthly expenses of about $2,142 toward paying back the note for construction, $650 for utilities, $900 for maintenance, $200 for supplies and $475 for property taxes.If the project is approved, Skalabrin said the center would be an addition of which the community could be proud. The community will own this; the county's not going to own this. That's what builds pride in a community - ownership, he said. This, I think, will lend itself to supporting businesses that are there. We really want to support, not tear down.Committee members said the center could provide a focal point for the community, providing senior citizen outreach and child and youth programs, including fitness programs; arts, crafts and gardening classes; money management classes; Chuckwagon meals; pre-school sports; music classes and athletics, among others.Through volunteer work, participation fees for programs, hall rentals for anything from community meetings to weddings and rent from the upstairs apartments, Skalabrin thinks the community center would be self-sustaining.He said tax money would not be tapped to pay for the center - the money to pay for the land procurement would come from the county and a grant. Money to pay off the construction note would come from the center itself.If the proposal is approved, construction of the center would be phased, beginning somewhere around late 2002 and lasting into 2003.The next step in the planning process is a community meeting at 7 p.m. March 27 at Manchester Elementary to vote on whether to move forward with the project at all and, if so, what Manchester residents would like to see offered there.If Manchester residents give the center the go-ahead, a preliminary draft of plans will be submitted for community review later this summer; suggestions from that meeting will be incorporated into finished plans that will be submitted for public review in September 2001. "

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