Downturn won’t deter downtown

Plans for a downtown parking garage and community center in downtown Port Orchard are proceeding, even in the face of severe economic conditions and a building slowdown.

“We’re looking for funding sources that are not affected by the housing market,” said Port Orchard Development Director James Weaver. “And grant money is available.”

While the vision is for a thriving downtown with a waterfront park and vibrant retail, the path toward this goal is prosaic. In order for downtown Port Orchard to grow, there needs to be a place to park.

The Port Orchard Town Center Revitalization Project, which is now available on the city’s Web site, begins with an underground parking structure to be constructed along Prospect Street. Once complete, the city can develop the waterfront, which is now used predominantly for parking, into a public park.

City officials believe these steps will directly lead to a vital Port Orchard. And they are now laying the groundwork by continuing the planning process.

“It’s important to keep planning these steps,” Weaver said, “so whatever happens, the staff will have something to work on.”

After farming out much of the grant application work, the city expects to bring it in house and delegate it to Weaver’s staff.

The steps will run concurrently. The first goal is the funding search, to be followed by site acquisition and design.

The Prospect Street site still needs testing, in order to make sure it can accommodate underground parking. Once completed, the city will need to acquire some property in order to build the structure.

In a related matter, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola recently sent out a letter to local residents saying the city was not currently involved in any site acquisition and that any real estate developer claiming to act on the city’s behalf for land purchases is lying.

Weaver calls the parking garage “a catalyst project” that will stimulate downtown development. And removing parking from the waterfront in favor of a park will cost the city less due to money paid to the Department of Natural Resources.

Depending on the design, the parking structure would house from 724 to 1,172 cars. It would be constructed underneath a community center that most likely would contain a library.

The current library building, which the city owns, would be turned into a retail store or a restaurant.

Like the funding, the timing is also up in the air. The city estimates it will take three to five years to complete.

After the grants are secured the public will have the opportunity to testify during the design and land acquisition process according to Weaver.

“The draft prospectus document is intended to serve the city of Port Orchard for funding purposes in a conceptual manner and as a living document,” Weaver wrote in a press release. “It will be updated as new information becomes available and as new funding sources are identified. The city of Port Orchard encourages public input and review relating to the community desires as this project is conceptually explored.”

The statement goes on to project the new Port Orchard library structure could also contain 7,500 square feet of retail space and a pedestrian/vehicular boulevard that could be used for street fairs or farmer’s markets on the Prospect Street right-of-way.

Additional public plazas may be possible on the roof of these structures for panoramic views of the bay and the city.

As the economy slides, Weaver said that Port Orchard could benefit from the WPA-like public works program, outlined this weekend by President-elect Barack Obama.

“This has been a long time coming,” Weaver said. “We benefited from the great infrastructure push in the 1960s and 1970s, but since then we have only maintained our failing infrastructure. This plan reflects a much-needed investment in our future.”

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