Westbay lot off-limits on Fourth

There will be no fireworks in the Westbay Center parking lot or its backyard beach this Fourth of July.

The lot and the beach, both popular spots to view and set off fireworks, will be closed to the public on the Fourth at the request of the center’s owner, but to the dismay of some of its tenants

According to Jennifer Hardison, executive director of South Kitsap Helpline, a nonprofit food bank located in the center, Westbay businesses had no recourse in the matter.

“It’s our understanding that it’s going to be roped off,” she said, “which is sort of odd, we think, because we’re all businesses here and we should have a say in it.”

According to Hardison, the front parking lot has been used in the past for a fireworks show. She said that although the lot gets messy, Helpline has always had volunteers to help clean up.

“In previous years, it’s been used for parking for the fireworks show,” Hardison said. “That’s turned out really great, so I don’t know what the problem is.”

The problem, said Jim Freeman, leasing agent for Westbay Center, is the effort that’s been made in the past few months to beautify the property.

“(Bill) Cree, the building’s owner, has spent way in excess of $600,000 in the past six months,” Freeman said. “Prior to that, as a general rule and especially on Fourth of July weekend, there has been damage to the building — broken windows and garbage dumped on the lot.”

According to Freeman, the public is responsible for the change in the lot’s availability.

“In years’ past, the public’s been allowed to go in the parking lot,” Freeman said. “The problem is that irresponsible people would set off fireworks, leave trash, break windows, start fires and even damage the roof. It looks 100 percent better now, and Mr. Cree is trying to protect it.”

Although Cree declined to comment, he said he gave permission to the owners of Le Garmache Catering, a tenant of WestBay Center, to rope off the lot that weekend and protect the back of the center.

“For several reasons, (the lot) will be completely blocked off,” said Betsy Jolliffe, who has owned Le Garmache with her sister for seven years. “Mr. Cree doesn’t want anyone back there,” she said. “He’s invested in the building and he doesn’t want Joe Public to go back there and cause damage.” Jolliffe also cites the fact that the Le Garmache banquet room has been rented out that weekend as a reason for closing the lot and the back of the property.

“If I have an event, I’m going to block it off,” Jolliffe said. “I have to have parking for my wedding people.”

She said, however, the decision was not hers.

“It’s not our decision,” Jolliffe said. “We’re just taking responsibility to prevent damage because we’re renting a majority of the space.”

According to Jolliffe, there is a seawall behind the building that is unsafe, and Cree does not want to be liable for an accident.

Warren McMannamy, owner of Hi Tide Tavern and also a tenant of the building, is concerned there will be no parking for his customers, but Jolliffe said there would be parking for those businesses open over the weekend. “I’m going to be open and I need parking for my customers” McMannamy said. “In the past (Cree) has wanted to close it off entirely and keep everyone out for liability reasons. Technically, it is private property, but where does the beach stop and the privacy start?”

Bob Morehouse, Fathoms o’Fun parade director, said the lot has been used for a variety of reasons in the past.

“We collected donations from people wanting to park a few years ago and we’ve collected cans for Helpline,” Morehouse said. “But it was sort of a hassle for Fathoms to operate the lot, so we gave it to 4-H.”

McMannamy participated in raising money off the lot for Helpline.

“One year I raised $495; I rounded it up to $500 and donated it to Helpline and Fathoms o’Fun” McMannamy said.

Hardison said she is disappointed more businesses were not able to give input.

“I think it’s a real shame for the people who want to come out and watch the fireworks,” Hardison said.

Al Townsend, Port Orchard Chief of Police, said that since the lot is private property, the police will make no effort to force the public to keep off the property.

“Legally speaking, there’s nothing we’ll do,” Townsend said. “It’s strictly their responsibility if a vehicle parks in the lot to have it towed.”

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