Visitor center is up for sale


News-Times editor

A number of people are dreaming of owning Deception Pass Visitors Center, but whether it gets a new lease on life depends on someone’s willingness to plunk down more than half a million dollars to take over the joint.

The building adjacent to the state’s most popular park was built in 2000 and operated for less than a year. It had an espresso stand with a drive-through window, an indoor coffee shop, a gift store and rows of revenue-generating display cases to stock brochures for tourist-related businesses.

It was built by Chris Kelly who ran into financial difficulties soon after opening. Eventually he put the building up for auction along with other property he owned on South Whidbey. But apparently, no suitable bid was obtained.

The building today is owned by the federal Small Business Administration’s unit called the Evergreen Community Development Association, according to Dan Carter, who works for Coldwell Banker Koetje Real Estate in Oak Harbor. The asking price of $545,000 was essentially established by the SBA, Carter said. “It’s probably a reasonable price,” he judged.

Antoinette Marasigan of Evergreen confirmed the SBA owns the building but declined to discuss how that came about.

In the month the building has been on the market, Carter has received numerous inquiries. “We get tons of interest,” he said Friday. “It’s amazing how many people want to turn that building into something.”

Carter said the original business plan of espresso, gifts and the rental of brochure space made sense. From what he understands, Kelly’s financial problems stemmed from other dealings, not the visitors center. Kelly’s old Whidbey Island telephone number has been disconnected and he could not be reached for this article.

Most prospective buyers talk about a similar type of business, Carter said. A small, on-site septic system limits some dreams. The building has more than 2,200 square feet of space and two restrooms, but they are for employee use only. The county limited the septic system to 200 gallons of water per day, so on-site food preparation is not feasible.

Another prospective buyer Carter has approached is Washington State Park. He said the building would make an ideal visitors center for the park, and suggested the state could hook up to the park’s nearby sewer system. In that case, the building’s possible uses would expand.

The building today looks ready to move into. The espresso menu is still on the wall, some equipment remains inside, a few gifts remain, as do a number of brochures. The nicely landscaped grounds are weeded and watered, and the empty 17-space parking lot still looks new.

“Inside it’s first class,” Carter said. “They didn’t scrimp on anything.”