PORT unveils its vision for downtown

After a month of brainstorming, planning — and even sometimes arguing —the Port Orchard Revitalization Team is ready to present its vision of downtown Port Orchard’s future.

The team, representing a hodge-podge of business, landlord and everyday citizen interests, was formed to talk about what is wrong with Bay Street’s business corridor, what is right with it and how to get the former to become the latter. Their efforts will guide a consultant, whom the city plans to hire to create an action plan for downtown.

The whole undertaking, which must be finished by the end of the year, is being completely funded through a $50,000 community development block grant the city snagged last year.

The results, presented at PORT’s final meeting Tuesday night, are focused, varied and unquestionably controversial. Not surprisingly, tempers flared when the group of three committee members appointed to act as liaisons to the Port Orchard City Council announced the marquee had not been included as part of the team’s vision for downtown.

“There’s a few of us that would like it in our vision,” said PORT member Fred Karakas, implying the final vision proposal had subverted the will of many committee members.

Rebutting that claim, both the group representatives and the group facilitator — City Councilwoman Rita DiIenno — pointed out the results were not arbitrary. Not one individual vision response in the whole group mentioned keeping the marquee, they said.

Nonetheless, the proposal didn’t exactly call for tearing it down, either. Because it incorporated so many viewpoints, the key points made by the vision document included some odd contradictions. For instance, “community” was seen as both an element of the vision and as a barrier working against it.

The purpose of the vision document, DiIenno reminded the team, was to offer guidance for the consultant — not a list of what the city wanted done.

“If you’re going to prescribe what the outcome’s going to be, you might as well do it yourself,” she said.

The guidelines or “blueprint” the team developed calls for the consultant to focus on three main areas:

n Achieving “vibrant and sustainable” economic development by developing a core theme, identifying unmet customer needs, locating anchor “brand” stores and replacing the marquee;

n Identifying the basic elements that will make downtown a more desirable place to shop by emphasizing cleanliness, easy availability of rest areas, accessibility, civic draws like the library and community involvement;

n Balancing beautification with car/pedestrian accessibility by making the area easier to enter and easier to linger in, emphasizing public art and including physical companion activities for the new theme.

The committee also felt it was crucial to have short-term goals as well as long-term goals to keep interest in the project active.

“We want to be able to show that we’re doing something,” said PORT member and liaison Brenda Zink-McKee. “We don’t want to wait 20 years for people to see something being done.”

The consultant packet will also include breakdowns of the team’s votes, as well as individual worksheets to present the breadth of input offered during the PORT meetings.

The PORT liaisons will present the final draft of the team proposal to the City Council at its March 8 council meeting. Both the team and the city hope residents will come out to hear the results of the PORT’s deliberations, even if the public disagrees with their findings. Indeed, knowing the debates that have erupted over downtown in the past, many council and team members are more or less expecting a bit of a firestorm.

For the most part, they are ready.

“We need to let people know if they don’t approve, we’re not going to back down,” McKee said.

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