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Marina course sought

The Oak Harbor harbormaster says the city’s marina needs a chart to map its way into the fog of tomorrow.

Dave Williams asked the City Council this month for their blessing to move forward with creating the “Marina Master Plan: Charting the course for the future.” He said he hopes to hire a consultant to create a “stem to stern” analysis of the marina and surrounding waterfront with plans for future projects and ways to integrate the facility into the downtown area.

“The marina was built 30 years ago,” he said. “Every year since then it has been a jewel in the crown of Oak Harbor’s waterfront. ... It put Oak Harbor on the map in ways we could not pay for if we had the funds to advertise.”

Williams estimated that the 15-year plan would cost approximately $100,000 to $110,000, but he argued it is well worth the investment. He calculated that the marina brings in about $1.6 million a year to the city’s economy, while remaining largely self sufficient.

It’s the perfect time to consider the marina’s future, Williams said, because the facility is at a “critical juncture when a few things are coming into confluence.” The marina’s bond will be paid off by the end of the year. In the next year and a half, the funds for bond payments will be used to pay off an inter-fund loan.

“We will in essence be debt free,” Williams said. Which means the marina will have extra money on hand that can be used for upgrades.

Also, the city is the midst of planning for the future of the city’s waterfront. The City Council hired tourism consultant Roger Brooks, for $48,000, to create a comprehensive tourism and economic plan focusing on the area. At the same time, the city’s planning department is working on a “downtown public realm plan” which combines all the past planning efforts into one action plan.

In addition, Williams heads the committee that continues to work on the municipal dock project.

With all this other planning in play, Williams said it’s the perfect time to consider the future of the marina and its place in the city landscape.

“The bottom line,” Mayor Patty Cohen said, “is seeing beyond the marina as a place to park your boat. ... We want to integrate it into the city’s economic development strategy.”

Williams sees the possibility of significant changes to the facility in the future. He focused on how the market trends for boat slips have changed over the last 10 years. People are buying bigger boats and need larger slips than anticipated when the marina was originally built. The market is dominated by boats that are 40 feet or longer. Currently, 70 percent of all the slips are 28 feet or less, which Williams surmises is largely responsible for the 25 percent vacancy rate.

In addition, he said the facility will need to be modernized to keep up with the competition.

Williams hopes to negotiate a contract with a consultant to create a comprehensive marina plan. It will start with an analysis of the current marina. “We want a stem to stern, top to bottom review of everything that is floating,” he said.

The goal of the forward-looking part of the plan, Williams said, is to more closely align the marina facilities with the boating market, upgrade or replace aging portions of the marina and create a maintenance program. The plan will prioritize needed projects, which might includes things like dredging, replacement of the electric system, installing new floats, and the creation of larger moorage spaces.

Williams said he hopes to begin the construction phase in 2007.

The plan, Williams proposed, will be funded with $45,000 in marina money and about $60,000 from the city’s general fund.

In the end, the City Council agreed that Williams should move forward with finding a consultant to do the project. A contract with the consultant will have to return to the council sometime in the New Year for final approval.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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