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PORT meeting reveals vision for downtown

As expected, there were as many visions for downtown Port Orchard as there were committee members at the first Port Orchard Revitalization Team meeting Tues-day night.

The first session was given over largely to introductions and preliminary brainstorming as Port Orchard City Council-woman Rita Di-Ienno — the team’s facilitator — strove to get the 30 various personalities to focus on moving forward. It ap-peared challenging — several PORT members wanted to skip ahead to solutions while others wanted to talk about their own personal issues with the Bay Street business corridor.

One man in the audience even left after DiIenno reminded the dozen or so observers that they would not be permitted to participate in the group’s deliberations.

DiIenno, however, seemed comfortable with the dash of chaos that ran through the gathering.

“What they learned in the game of golf is it takes a little friction to make (the ball) go even further,” she said, holding up a golf ball to emphasize her point.

The 30 members of PORT, split 75-25 between business/building owners and residents, are tasked with finding the best way to spend $50,000 the city received in block grant funding last year. The money, which will be largely used to hire a consultant to flesh out the group’s ideas, is hoped to help revitalize Bay Street. The street’s business district has experienced a steady decline and has become a sore spot for many in the city.

PORT will be meeting four or five times during February in an effort to achieve consensus for the members’ ideas. City officials hope by involving the public in this effort from the very beginning, the community as a whole will later be more supportive of the end result.

Past efforts to spruce up Bay Street have withered as opposing interests argued over the best course of action.

“I like Ben Franklin’s approach to things,” city engineer Larry Curles told the PORT members. “We’re going to hang together or we’re definitely going to hang separately.”

In general, the members’ visions for downtown fell into two categories: those who wanted to focus on downtown’s attractions and those that wanted to focus on downtown’s attractiveness.

Fred Karakas, who owns Olympic Bike and Skate, said the most important thing was to get good businesses downtown and worry about the paint job later. Several others addressed the issue of “hobby” business owners who don’t put the needed effort into their stores and close soon after opening. As a result, they said, Bay Street has lost its status as a destination shopping district.

“I don’t think it has to do with what you look like,” Karakas said. “If you have what people want, they will come.”

Newcomer Rich Way, who plans to soon open his business — Pristine Homes — said Port Orchard has failed to develop a packaged approach to attracting visitors. Way pointed to Winslow, Gig Harbor and Poulsbo as smaller communities who drastically improved their marketability over the last 25 years. In the same time, he said, Port Orchard has faded further into the background.

“It seems Port Orchard hasn’t caught on,” Way said. “The pride is gone. I see business owners that don’t paint their buildings. We’re talking about one coat of paint.”

Because the block grant expires at the end of the year, PORT will keep to a relatively tight schedule. The City Council is expected to review the committee’s recommendations Feb. 25 and start advertising for a consultant the first week of March. The consulting contract is expected to be signed at the end of April.

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