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Windjammer results seen as lacking

Having completed his $135,000 contract, consultant Tom Beckwith made his final presentation to the Oak Harbor City Council last week on the progress he made implementing the Windjammer Plan to redevelop and revitalize downtown and the waterfront.

While the elected officials praised him for his work, not everyone has been completely pleased with the 20 months of effort. The director of the Chamber of Commerce even stopped going to Windjammer Committee meetings out of sheer frustration at what she felt was the glacial pace of progress and the overlooking of details.

“The Chamber remains supportive,” said director Jill Johnson, “but sometimes being supportive means asking the tough questions and not just saying things are fine when they could be better.”

Last Wednesday, the La Conner consultant told the City Council that he was able to accomplish much of the foundational work and planning for large projects, as well as creating designs for marketing materials, with input from a number of community stakeholders and city staff.

The next step, he suggested, is to find out what the public’s priorities are for the many projects included in Windjammer and what options they prefer for funding.

“What we propose is a public survey,” he said.

At the end of his presentation, members of the City Council and Mayor Patty Cohen said they were pleased with the work. Councilwoman Sue Karahalios thanked him for breaking the $32-million project into smaller pieces that could be accomplished.

Councilman Larry Eaton, who, like Cohen and Karahalios, leaves office at the end of the year, said he hoped that he would be remembered for his part in creating the plan. In the past, he has touted what is probably Windjammer’s greatest achievement to date, which is attracting the prospect of major development downtown.

“This does not feel like something that is sitting on a shelf,” said Cohen, referring to a common complaint that big plans for Oak Harbor always end up gathering dust.

In contrast, Johnson was exasperated by the inefficiency of the process, especially with municipal planners overseeing an out-of-town consultant. After all the months of work, she said the Chamber finally received the first tangible piece of marketing material — a folder with the new city logo — this week. She was recently upset to see the design for a city tourism brochure that prominently features Fort Ebey and the Kettles Trail, neither of which are in Oak Harbor.

“Maybe it would have made more sense to consider what organizations could do things more effectively,” she said, pointing out that the Chamber is expected to carry forward much of the plan.

“It took them a year-and-a-half to do what would take us a few hours,” she added.

The council adopted the Windjammer Plan, officially called the Waterfront, Redevelopment, Branding and Marketing Program, in March of 2005. It was created by tourism consultant Roger Brooks for about $40,000. Major components of the original plan — some of which have been changed — included a special events center, an amphitheater, a boardwalk instead of sidewalks on Pioneer Way, facade improvements, an expanded RV park, a giant playground and a water-view hotel.

The council then hired Beckwith to implement the plan. He originally said he hoped to make major progress in some of the larger projects — even going as far as to predict that a waterfront hotel and special events center would be designed, financed and possibly under construction after 18 months — but the work went slower than anticipated. Also, other priorities popped up, like creating a streetscape plan before a major development downtown.

Still, Beckwith was able to speak at length about the work that’s been done.

When it comes to marketing materials, the consultant created a tourism Web site for the city, www.oakharborcomeashore.com; a style guide for ads, brochures, business cards and other promotional materials; and marketing information, such as an economic profile.

Under the category of signage, Beckwith took credit for the new wayfinding signs around the city, even though the work of creating the signs was already in progress by the Chamber before Windjammer came about.

“We wanted some sophistication to it, some sense of design and interest,” he said of the signs.

He also said stylish kiosks and large gateway signs have been designed and temporary signs were placed at Windjammer Park and the renamed Staysail RV Park.

The plans for a large special events center changed after Beckwith completed a market analysis and found that there’s a limited off-island demand for such facilities. He refined the plan to a “great hall design” with a 412- or 618-person capacity, depending on the configuration.

Beckwith estimated that the center would cost about $5 million, but he proposed that it be built through a design / develop method, also known as “lease to own,” under which a developer would finance and build the structure for the city. Under this method, he estimated that the city would end up paying out about $83,000 the first year, but make about $573,000 by the 30th year.

A lot of progress was made on the streetscape design for Pioneer Way. With the help of members of the downtown Harborside Merchants’ Committee, a pedestrian-friendly area was designed with intersection accents, special event areas, landscaping, furnishings, a plaza and “a hillclimb with a pergola.”

The city is planning to do the streetscape work at the same time that utilities are replaced and the street is realigned to allow for angle-in parking.

Beckwith estimated the total cost $8.4 million; he said downtown building owners and merchants had agreed with the idea of financing about $1.2 million of that cost through a local improvement district, or LID, process, which would allow them to pay it off over time.

Beckwith and the city also worked with Harborside to create a detailed guide for facades on downtown buildings. The consultant worked with a couple of local banks to put together a low-cost loan program for those who want to improve the looks of buildings.

When it comes to Windjammer Park itself, Beckwith said development and design concepts were refined to show the extension of Bayshore Drive and the relocation of Little League ballfields, a special events center and the RV park.

He completed a feasibility study of the RV park and refined the design to accommodate larger vehicles and include such features as a clubhouse / restroom and trails with artwork sales.

Like the special events center, Beckwith said the $2.7 million in work at the RV park could be accomplished through a design / develop method, which would produce revenues starting in the first year.

On both the special event center and the RV park, Beckwith said it’s now time to issue requests for proposals.

Yet the future of Windjammer remains a little hazy. While some elected officials have said they would like to see Beckwith continue, Mayor-elect Jim Slowik said in a public forum that he wouldn’t renew the consultant’s contract.

The Chamber’s Johnson said she feels the city doesn’t need Beckwith anymore. She proposes that everyone involved — city staff, elected officials, Harborside merchants and the Chamber — sit down and clarify what their roles are and what should happen next.

“Now let the appropriate organizations do their jobs and start getting things done,” she said.“This does not feel like something that is sitting on a shelf,” said Cohen, referring to a common complaint that big plans for Oak Harbor always end up gathering dust.

In contrast, Johnson was exasperated by the inefficiency of the process, especially with municipal planners overseeing an out-of-town consultant. After all the months of work, she said the Chamber finally received the first tangible piece of marketing material — a folder with the new city logo — this week. She was recently upset to see the design for a city tourism brochure that prominently features Fort Ebey and the Kettles Trail, neither of which are in Oak Harbor.

“Maybe it would have made more sense to consider what organizations could do things more effectively,” she said, pointing out that the Chamber is expected to carry forward much of the plan.

“It took them a year-and-a-half to do what would take us a few hours,” she added.

The council adopted the Windjammer Plan, officially called the Waterfront, Redevelopment, Branding and Marketing Program, in March of 2005. It was created by tourism consultant Roger Brooks for about $40,000. Major components of the original plan — some of which have been changed — included a special events center, an amphitheater, a boardwalk instead of sidewalks on Pioneer Way, facade improvements, an expanded RV park, a giant playground and a water-view hotel.

The council then hired Beckwith to implement the plan. He originally said he hoped to make major progress in some of the larger projects — even going as far as to predict that a waterfront hotel and special events center would be designed, financed and possibly under construction after 18 months — but the work went slower than anticipated. Also, other priorities popped up, like creating a streetscape plan before a major development downtown.

Still, Beckwith was able to speak at length about the work that’s been done.

When it comes to marketing materials, the consultant created a tourism Web site for the city, www.oakharborcomeashore.com; a style guide for ads, brochures, business cards and other promotional materials; and marketing information, such as an economic profile.

Under the category of signage, Beckwith took credit for the new wayfinding signs around the city, even though the work of creating the signs was already in progress by the Chamber before Windjammer came about.

“We wanted some sophistication to it, some sense of design and interest,” he said of the signs.

He also said stylish kiosks and large gateway signs have been designed and temporary signs were placed at Windjammer Park and the renamed Staysail RV Park.

The plans for a large special events center changed after Beckwith completed a market analysis and found that there’s a limited off-island demand for such facilities. He refined the plan to a “great hall design” with a 412- or 618-person capacity, depending on the configuration.

Beckwith estimated that the center would cost about $5 million, but he proposed that it be built through a design / develop method, also known as “lease to own,” under which a developer would finance and build the structure for the city. Under this method, he estimated that the city would end up paying out about $83,000 the first year, but make about $573,000 by the 30th year.

A lot of progress was made on the streetscape design for Pioneer Way. With the help of members of the downtown Harborside Merchants’ Committee, a pedestrian-friendly area was designed with intersection accents, special event areas, landscaping, furnishings, a plaza and “a hillclimb with a pergola.”

The city is planning to do the streetscape work at the same time that utilities are replaced and the street is realigned to allow for angle-in parking.

Beckwith estimated the total cost $8.4 million; he said downtown building owners and merchants had agreed with the idea of financing about $1.2 million of that cost through a local improvement district, or LID, process, which would allow them to pay it off over time.

Beckwith and the city also worked with Harborside to create a detailed guide for facades on downtown buildings. The consultant worked with a couple of local banks to put together a low-cost loan program for those who want to improve the looks of buildings.

When it comes to Windjammer Park itself, Beckwith said development and design concepts were refined to show the extension of Bayshore Drive and the relocation of Little League ballfields, a special events center and the RV park.

He completed a feasibility study of the RV park and refined the design to accommodate larger vehicles and include such features as a clubhouse / restroom and trails with artwork sales.

Like the special events center, Beckwith said the $2.7 million in work at the RV park could be accomplished through a design / develop method, which would produce revenues starting in the first year.

On both the special event center and the RV park, Beckwith said it’s now time to issue requests for proposals.

Yet the future of Windjammer remains a little hazy. While some elected officials have said they would like to see Beckwith continue, Mayor-elect Jim Slowik said in a public forum that he wouldn’t renew the consultant’s contract.

The Chamber’s Johnson said she feels the city doesn’t need Beckwith anymore. She proposes that everyone involved — city staff, elected officials, Harborside merchants and the Chamber — sit down and clarify what their roles are and what should happen next.

“Now let the appropriate organizations do their jobs and start getting things done,” she said.

Community Events, April 2014

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