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Brooks identifies sources for tourism project money

Roger Brooks promises to show Oak Harbor the money Tuesday night.

The City Council is meeting with Brooks, the city’s $52,000 tourism consultant, to discuss his large-scale plans for revitalizing the downtown and waterfront area. The council was originally scheduled to formally adopt his final plan Tuesday, but that probably won’t happen until the end of the month.

The March 1 meeting, Brooks said Thursday, will be all about the money and the timeline. And if the money flows according to his plans, Oak Harbor will have a completely redeveloped downtown in five years.

Brooks is very excited about the project. “Oak Harbor has more potential than any community I have ever worked with,” he said, “and I have worked with hundreds.”

At his last presentation to the community last month, the CEO of Olympia-based Destination Development laid out his vision, announced the $31 million price tag and described his preliminary ideas for funding the work.

Since then, Brooks said the price has increased to $32 million in order to include his “walk of honor” and the cost of designing the pier. He said he’s going to recommend leaving in the amphitheater next to an expanded lagoon in the park, even though a couple of council members expressed doubts about the idea.

“It’s not going to be a huge amphitheater that’s going to bring in all kinds of concerts,” Brooks said. “We’re not going to compete with the Gorge. ... We’re trying to create a neat area to wrap the lagoon, which is the centerpiece of the whole park.”

Part of Brooks’ job is to find funding sources for all the projects. Brooks said he and his team researched a wide range of funding ideas, including state and federal grants, and spoke to other municipalities about what they have done. The little town of Stevenson, for example, used 17 different funding sources to revitalize its downtown.

“We’re really earning our keep coming up with some creative funding ideas,” he said. “We have a lot of neat ideas. ... We’ve pretty much solved most of the funding puzzle.”

Brooks said Pioneer Way merchants will have to pay for some of the improvements since grant sources and the rest of the community shouldn’t be expected to pay for all the work.

Yet while most downtown areas in the nation are revitalized with the creation of some type of business improvement district, Brooks said that will be difficult in downtown Oak Harbor. Under this scenario, the property owners pay extra taxes, which go toward paying off improvement projects.

The problem with Oak Harbor’s downtown is the lack of taxing capacity. The entire downtown area along Pioneer Way, from City Beach Street to Midway Boulevard, has an assessed value of only $13 million.

“That’s really sad,” Brooks said, noting that $2 million of that is from the Copeland/Beselin property. He said he has “no idea” why the properties are valued so low.

Implementing the plan, Brooks said, will require the city to hire at least two extra people. One person would be a recruiter to bring in businesses downtown, especially a hotelier. The other person would manage the implementation of the entire project and write grants. After the construction starts, that person should be replaced with a construction manager.

Brooks isn’t finding funding to demolish the stinky sewer plant in the middle of the park, but he said it’s crucial to get rid of it as soon as possible. “Leaving it there would be a travesty to the entire plan,” he said. “It has to be moved.”

While Brooks said the council won’t adopt the plan Tuesday, he will suggest that they move ahead with adopting the nautical theme for the city, adopt the logo with sails and begin implementing the sign program.

He recommends that the city adopt the sign program put together by a Chamber of Commerce committee. The hodgepodge of signs in the city will be replaced with about 70 signs featuring the new sail logo.

In his timeline, 2005 will be branding and gathering grants; 2006 will be for architectural, engineering and bids; 2007 will be the start of building. The entire project should be complete by 2010.

“The potential is so unbelievable,” Brooks said. “It’s a major deal. It might be the biggest undertaking the city has ever taken on.”

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

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