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Oak Harbor officials meet with Realtors over Pioneer Way improvements

About 25 island real estate professionals from Windermere, Coldwell Banker Koetje and Coldwell Banker Tara Properties met with Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik and city engineers Monday afternoon at city hall for an informal conversation about the future of Pioneer Way.

Slowik told the group that a plan to redevelop the downtown area has been in the works for 60 years, but he assured them that this proposal is different from those of the past.

This time the city will get the job done, he said, and construction will start in 2011.

Construction was previously slated for 2010, but Slowik said it was postponed because the downtown merchants were concerned that construction would drive away customers during the busy winter shopping season.

“We’re at a point were we felt we needed to have a conversation with the community,” he said. “We thought, ‘Maybe we’re going a bit too fast.’ So now we’re going to slow down. We want to make sure we have a selling season.”

Although city officials have identified a construction timeline, they have not settled on a plan.

“Now is the time to put our heads together,” Slowik said.

The two alternatives include a one-way, eastbound street with more parking and eight-foot-wide sidewalks, or a two-way street with slightly less parking and narrower, five-foot-wide sidewalks. Both proposals will take the same amount of time - about six to 10 months - to complete.

The one-way option will offer shoppers about 90 parking spaces. The two-way plan will only allow for approximately 46 stalls.

Parking should not be a concern, Slowik said, in an attempt to quiet some attendees’ fears that a lack of parking might drive away shoppers.

Slowik suggested the city could build a “double-deck” parking garage on the city-owned lot on the corner of Pioneer Way and Dock Street if parking becomes a serious issue downtown.

The main focus of the two-way plan is traffic circulation, said City Engineer Johnston. In contrast, pedestrians are the focus of the one-way alternative.

“The big difference is urban place-making and traffic versus pedestrians,” he said.

Johnston said this time the plan will move forward and the downtown will be improved.

“Over the years the city has talked about, talked about, talked about and planned about, planned about, planned about a downtown revitalization,” he said of the city’s inability to settle on a way to fund and redevelop Pioneer Way. “Perteet is not a planning firm they are an Engineering firm. This will lead to a construction project. It will not be talked about and put on the shelf again.”

In an attempt to connect with the crowd, Johnson said the downtown improvements are akin to a real estate purchase. Investment attracts attention and the one-way option, the alternative recommended by Perteet, will attract the most attention, he said.

“You put a fresh coat of paint on the house and you attract some more buyers. The one-way option is also like repainting the kitchen, the bathroom ...” he said.

David Cohick of Windermere understood Johnston’s example, but couldn’t help but question the “seller’s” judgement.

“What is you don’t like the colors?” he asked.

Cohick wasn’t the only attendee leery of the possibility of a one-way street through downtown.

Wayne Locke, of Coldwell Banker Tara Properties, asked if the engineers studied the “learning curve” for cities that change a downtown street from a two way to one way.

“The chaos of changing to one-way would turn me away from Pioneer Way,” he said.

Johnston empathized with Locke.

“Change is hard, but we will adapt,” he said. “For the visitor from out of town, the one-way street will capture them, get them to go downtown, park, get out and walk around.”

Regardless of the city’s decision to go one way or two way, the project will cost the same.

The city council has approved $4.5 million from the existing budget, although another million will be needed to complete the basic project. More money will be available through utility rate taxes, pending a rate study, Johnson said, adding that city officials “anticipate additional funding will be added to the budget.”

Slowik hopes the Pioneer Way redevelopment will set off a domino effect of improvement projects downtown.

“If we do a good job revitalizing the street, maybe the property owners will revitalize their shops,” he said.

City staff, engineers and a representative from Perteet will be on hand with information about the two alternative plans at an open house on Thursday, Oct. 22 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 1050 SE Ireland St.

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