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Visiting architects focus on Oak Harbor's downtown

"The results of an exercise to see what Oak Harbor community members see as the strength and weaknesses of the city focused on one area - the downtown waterfront.About 30 community members joined with a dozen Puget Sound architects and a nationally-known architect from Florida in the kick-off event of an ambitious three-day seminar called the Blueprint For Change.Harbor Pride, a new group led by architect Terry LeDesky, brought in a Northwest Chapter of the American Institute of Architects' design assistance team to meet the community, evaluate the needs and create a list of priority projects designed to revitalize the city.Today, Saturday, at 3 p.m. the team of architects will present their recommendations to the community at North Whidbey Middle School.During the workshop Thursday night, the community participants were asked to come up with lists of the city's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Then the community members ranked the importance of the items on the list by voting with stickers.Here's a look at what seen as most important:* The strengths include the waterfront, the downtown, natural beauty of the area and the many parks and greenbelts.* The weaknesses include the lack of a downtown core, the lack of economic diversity, fragmented design elements, lack of incentives to develop downtown, the many fast food restaurants and car dealerships, and the under-utilization of the waterfront.* The opportunities include the revitalization of downtown, the proposed new pier and the development of downtown tourism.* The threats include the blocking of water views, the further deterioration of downtown, the lack of project follow-through, no common vision and a continuing lack of economic diversity.Friday, LeDesky and the team of architects met with various groups and then toured the city. At night the team took more input from community members during a second workshop focusing in on the identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Today, the team of architects is spending the day creating a prioritized list of recommendations based on all the information and opinions they've gathered from residents. High school students interested in architecture are invited to sit in and watch the process.The entire community is urged to attend the teams' unveiling of their recommendations today from 3 to 5 p.m. at North Whidbey Middle School. It will be followed by a community barbecue. ---------You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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