Would a parking garage revitalize Bay Street?

When local government officials seek to revitalize a part of town, they often find it difficult to overcome the factors that caused the area’s economic activity to decline.

Rather than responding to the desires of entrepreneurs who would invest in the area’s redevelopment if only one or another thing were different, officials usually end up trying to find something that would spark the interest of investors.

Once the merchants and other businesses move to other areas, they must either be replaced by substantially different enterprises or the area’s drawbacks have to be fixed.

The city of Port Orchard has faced this situation for decades in the older part of town along Bay Street.

As population increased, business went to larger stores and shopping malls in places where more customers could easily go.

The smaller buildings on Bay Street could still be occupied by businesses, but not the same kinds as those who left.

Retail stores especially tend to go where they can attract and accommodate the largest number of customers.

Shopping malls and “big box” stores with vast parking lots sprang up because more customers preferred them.

Port Orchard has been considering the construction of a parking garage near Bay Street, since the lack of plentiful parking spaces is one of the reasons businesses moved away.

Would a parking garage built with funds from taxpayers make enough difference that it would be a worthwhile use of the public’s money?

As things now stand, some businesses can do all right in the area. Their customers come because of who and what they are, not because of where they are.

If there were more places to park but few viable businesses that could fit into the relatively small buildings on Bay Street, a parking garage might turn out to be a bad investment.

Even if the garage made it possible to beautify the waterfront with a public park, would that make a significant difference?

Customers didn’t abandon the former stores in Port Orchard and go to shopping malls because they considered the mall parking lots to be beautiful.

They aren’t likely to come back to Bay Street stores because of a waterfront park where parking lots now exist — at least, not to stores that try to compete with the malls.

The changes contemplated by Port Orchard officials could transform Bay Street into a beehive of economic activity, but only if there are entrepreneurs who can take advantage of the new conditions.

If city government were responding to the requests of business or property owners who would take advantage of more available parking and a pleasant waterfront park, the likelihood of a successful outcome could be estimated.

Has there been any such interest in the private sector, or would the public’s funds be used in a speculative effort to generate some interest?

It is possible to obtain public funding, but it would be good to offer some reason to believe that the public would benefit enough to make it worthwhile.

Combining the parking garage and a new public library in one structure would make more waterfront area available and provide a potential source of funds from a voter-approved levy for the library.

If taxpayers would be satisfied with a new library and public park as their guaranteed “return on investment,” the hope for a revitalized Bay Street commercial area could be just a hope without dooming a request for public funds.

Since there has been no apparent groundswell of support for building a new library or converting the waterfront area into a park, it seems likely that something more would be needed to gain voter approval of public funding.

And that something is what is usually the hardest thing to deliver when trying to revitalize an older part of town — commitments from private investors.

If it were easy to attract private investment to an area, revitalization would happen almost by itself.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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