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$48,000 plan warmly received

If Roger Brooks has his way, tourists will someday flock to downtown Oak Harbor to sit in the 3,000-seat amphitheater in a giant waterfront park called Regatta Beach, rent a kayak for an adventure in the surf, stroll over to the car convention at the nearby special events center, visit friends in the $1 million condos overlooking the city’s bay, and shop and dine on “The Boardwalk.”

Brooks, the city’s $48,000 tourism consultant, presented his “draft recommendations” to a very receptive crowd of about 40 residents Tuesday night.

His recommendations consisted of 18 specific — and in some cases expensive — ideas for increasing tourism in downtown Oak Harbor.

Brooks said he and his staff at Olympia-based Destination Development, Inc. went “way beyond” the scope of work they were hired to do. He said he interviewed more than 100 people in the city, researched all the existing plans for improving the city and worked with city staff.

His recommendations don’t include any funding sources, which he said is the next step in the process. He wants people to give him feedback on his ideas over the next week so that he can refine the plan.

Brooks has promised that he will find funding sources for all the different projects in the plan and that the sources won’t include asking the voters to increase their taxes. That will likely mean a lot of grant writing.

“The goal is to have the City Council adopt the plan in its entirety and then say, ‘staff implement it,’” Brooks said. Yet at the end of the meeting, Brooks said he doesn’t expect existing city staff to take on “something of this magnitude.” Instead, he said the city should hire either a staff person or a consultant to be a project manager.

Brooks pleaded with the crowd to support the plan, once it is complete, but he also cautioned that not everybody in the community will like it. Also, he said it will be a cohesive plan that should be fully implemented, not picked apart. He reminded City Council members that he had warned them that their firm and continued support of the plan is vital, but could be politically difficult. He even told them that they might not get re-elected.

The plan, however, is not just for city government. Brooks is also recommending roles for the downtown merchants and the Chamber of Commerce. The merchants, he said, should lead the effort to improve the downtown by bringing plans for things like facade improvements to the City Council, not the other way around. The Chamber, he said, should be the “ad agency for the city.”

Here’s a look at Brooks’ recommendations:

1. Adopt a nautical theme. He said everyone he spoke to wanted a nautical theme for the city, as opposed to a Dutch or patriotic theme. He proposed a nautical logo for the city — with a set of sails — though a person in the crowd pointed out that it was similar to the Banner Bank logo.

2. Adopt a sign and wayfinding plan. He said the Chamber of Commerce committee has created an impressive sign plan which should be implemented, possibly using lodging tax money. He added that the nautical logo should appear on all the signs.

3. Redevelop City Beach Park. He said improvements to the waterfront park are the centerpiece of his plan. His ideas include a grand entrance near a newly-landscaped Oak Harbor Motors; an expanded RV park; a larger swimming lagoon; an amphitheater; structures for vendors to rent kites, kayaks, bikes or other things; expanding the park to take over more of the waterfront, including the Freund marsh and Flintstone Park; historical markers on a “history walk”; a “waterfront trail of honor” dedicated to the Navy; and getting rid of the sewer treatment plant.

“It’s an outstanding destination,” he said, “which can out-compete any destination in the country that I’ve seen.”

4. Rename City Beach Park. He proposed “Regatta Beach,” which he said sounds more appealing and less “municipal.”

5. Develop a special events center. He proposed a public-private partnership in which the city would build a 40,000 square-foot, metal events center on Bayshore Drive, at the proposed site of the library. He said a small hotel, with a maximum of 76 rooms, should be built directly across the street, on top of the ball fields — which should be moved.

6. Recruit hotel and downtown condo development. He said the empty Copeland / Beselin site next to Mi Pueblo would be a perfect place for a development to include retail on the first floor, on Pioneer Way, with $1 million condos above.

7. Create physical gateways to downtown. He said either signs on both sides of the street or a structure like an archway should be installed to mark where the downtown begins. The gateways can be moved as the area grows.

8. Install angle-in parking downtown. Although controversial, he said downtown merchants should take the lead in bringing angle-in parking on Pioneer Way. He said is will improve retail sales by “double digits.” It would likely mean turning Pioneer Way into a one-way street, with traffic looping onto Bayshore Drive. And that, he said, would spur development on Bayshore Drive.

9. Remove downtown sidewalks and put in a boardwalk. He suggested that Trex boards, made from recycled plastic, could be installed in place of sidewalks.

10. Rename “Old Town.” He suggested that the southeastern Pioneer Way area could be called “The Boardwalk” instead.

11. Create a special district for signs, beautification and displays. He proposed that the downtown merchants start their own association to govern signs, landscaping and displays.

12. Develop visitor information kiosks. He said eight of the kiosks should be placed downtown, with others at popular places like Deception Pass, Fort Casey and the Chamber office. He said the kiosks at the downtown transit station are the perfect nautical-styled design.

13. Make the proposed municipal pier a priority and connect it to the marina. He suggested that the funding of the pier at Flintstone Park should be the only project that should be put to voters. Until the pier can be built, he said a temporary pier for small boats could be built. The marina should be incorporated into the downtown area with a free trolley, perhaps, and the “upland” part of the marina — the parking lot area — should be redeveloped. “It’s not very attractive,” he said.

14. Create an activity guide to Oak Harbor and annual community profiles. The pamphlets, he said, should be concise and attractive.

15. Rework Web sites. He said both the Oak Harbor Web site, oakharbor.org, and the Chamber of Commerce site, www.oakharborchamber.org, need to be improved.

16. Develop a better photo library. Handsome photos of the city can be used on the Web sites.

17. Reduce advertising and instead concentrate on public relations and sales. He said PR reaches more people, is more effective and less expensive.

18. Adopt the plan in its entirety and direct staff to implement it.

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

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