An energetic new executive director of the Oak Harbor Main Street organization and an active board are working to build a busier and more attractive downtown.
Owners of downtown businesses, city officials and other interested folks crowded into a room at the China Harbor restaurant Wednesday night to hear the plans that are in store for the area. Everyone seemed positive about the ideas, though several people expressed concerns about the perennial issue of parking.
Matthew Williams, the new executive director, introduced himself to the crowd and outlined the plans, which include the beautification of a stairs and walkway, a spring clean-up, historic plaques on buildings, murals, expanded events and possibly even an ice rink.
At the same time, he’s working to help recruit businesses to the empty buildings downtown.
“I want people to flock to Oak Harbor because we have something no one else has,” he said, referring to the nearby waterfront.
“It’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of organization, a lot of buy-in,” he added.
Williams explained that Main Street is part of a larger state program, which in turn is part of national program aimed at revitalizing downtown commercial districts. A few dozen towns and cities in the state are part of the Main Street program, which is funded by local business and occupation taxes.
Over the years, many plans for improving the downtown — which range from a clocktower to a boardwalk — have fallen flat. This effort, supporters say, has something the others didn’t — a stable source of funding and a full-time director dedicated to the program.
The first project in the works is to fix up Serendipity Lane, a little-known stairway and walkway that runs from Pioneer Way down to Bayshore Drive. Rhonda Severns, a member of the board, said the city, the Navy, the Oak Harbor Garden Club, Skagit Valley College and Main Street are all partnering on the project.
A class from Skagit Valley College is welding an archway for the lane. Volunteers from the Navy are going to clean up the weeds from the area next to the stairway. The garden club and Main Street are going to plant flowers to add color. City officials supported the project and made sure it wasn’t caught in red tape. An artist will paint a mural on the wall next to the stairs.
“We just want to make it as pristine as possible,” he said, adding that a future plan is to better delineate the walkway as it heads toward the water.
Williams is working on finding a sponsor for Oktoberfest in order to add live music to the event.
Dan Evans, president of the board, said in an interview that Main Street is looking at partnering with North Whidbey Park and Rec to bring an ice rink downtown in the winter months. The rink could be set up for a day on Pioneer Way for the tree lighting at Christmas time, then torn down and set up in another area downtown.
Evans said it was important for everyone to spread the word and speak positively about downtown.
“We want to make people feel like it’s theirs,” he said.