City taps Seattle firm for downtown overhaul

After grilling four willing applicants for most of a day, the Port Orchard Revitalization Team and the City Council have finally picked a consulting firm to plan an overhaul of downtown.

The consultant, which is being paid out of a $50,000 community development block grant, will be charged with concocting ways to improve the image of Bay Street’s business corridor and bring badly needed business back to the city’s shops and waterfront.

Although the pool of applicants was prestigious and the review team said they had a hard time choosing between them, the City Council late last month approved giving the contract to EDAW — a Seattle-based firm with offices on four continents.

“EDAW stood above the others ... and came across as a very qualified team,” said Rob Heay, one of three PORT representatives who helped in the selection process.

Even though EDAW’s resume paints the firm as a heavy hitter with the majority of its experience in big-city planning, the PORT members who reported to the City Council said the EDAW planners themselves came across very differently in the interview process.

“They didn’t have a big-firm feel,” Heay said.

“They’re going to be good listeners and they’re going to work with the community,” agreed PORT member Brian Petro.

The PORT representatives had an active role in the interviews, sharing the table with the council’s three-person economic development committee. Mayor Kim Abel said the purpose was to make sure both the will of the citizens, as well as the will of the council, was reflected in the final choice.

It appeared Abel’s plan worked well, because most in council chambers —including those in the audience — burst into applause as the council unanimously approved the contract with EDAW.

Bay Street has been a sore point with the city for many years and many residents have voiced ongoing concerns with the appearance of downtown, the proliferation of empty storefronts and the steady decline in both customers and visitors.

EDAW has pledged to make Bay Street once again a place that attracts customers and businesses and “encourages visitors to linger.” The group has agreed to continue working with residents and other stakeholders to create a plan that takes into account as many individual visions as possible while still remaining a coherent whole.

EDAW planners have already completed downtown revitalization projects in Laurel, Mont. and Powell, Wyo., as well as downtown planning for Covington, Edgewood, Woodinville and Eastsound on Orcas Island.

“Hopefully we’ll see that contract back quickly so we can start work,” Abel said.

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