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Ag Guild makes pitch for town tourist dollars — again

Local musician Teddy Deane serenades shoppers with a few tunes on the saxophone as part of the inaugural  Art Market event, Aug. 11, on the Brickworks plaza.   - Scott Rasmussen
Local musician Teddy Deane serenades shoppers with a few tunes on the saxophone as part of the inaugural Art Market event, Aug. 11, on the Brickworks plaza.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

Perseverance appears to have paid off for the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild.

Twice spurned by public agencies promising to help finance its renovation of the Brickworks building, 150 Nichols Street, the Guild last week may have turned the corner by latching onto a slice — albeit small — of public money that’s set aside for San Juan County’s support of local tourist-related facilities, such as museums, parks and performing arts centers.

On Aug. 9, the County Council sidestepped the recommendation of its lodging tax advisory committee and doled out $5,300 to the Guild as part of its annual distribution of county lodging tax awards. Those awards, totaling $352,000 for 2012, can be redeemed in the coming year.

“We’re going to be able to buy some tables and chairs,” said a delighted Bruce Gregory, chairman of the guild. “It may not be much, but we’ve got our foot in the door.”

Its “foot in the door” at the county comes at a time when the Guild is attempting to secure a much larger piece of tourist-related facilities funds from the Town of Friday Harbor. In a letter sent to the town in mid-June, the guild asked that the town council consider spending asked that the town council consider spending $250,000 of its lodging tax funds on Phase II of the Brickworks renovation.

Gregory said Phase II of the renovation focuses largely on remodel of the interior of the building, which, constructed about 90 years ago, is the last remaining industrial building in downtown Friday Harbor. Dubbed “Brickworks” because of its ties to Friday Harbor Brick and Tile Co., which manufactured blocks used in the construction of many downtown heritage buildings, including Town Hall.

The site is expected to feature a year-round farmers market, an events center and a plaza and open space once the remodel is complete.The building was purchased by the Guild a year ago despite its failure to win support of the County Council for a $400,000 sale of a conservation easement to the county Land Bank.

The town council also back away from investing in the Brickworks project several months before the county. The Guild pressed forward and completed the purchase with a $300,000 loan, a $375,000 state grant, a $99,990 USDA grant, and assorted donations generated by a fundraising drive. The Guild broke ground on Brickworks’ outdoor plaza in May, and the final brick was put into place last week.

Town Administrator King Fitch said the town council supports the project, in concept, and that the town has roughly $590,000 set aside in its tourist-related facilities fund. However, Fitch said  unlike the fund the town taps to finance the promotion of tourism, there’s no process in place for the council to follow in making distributions the tourist-related facilities fund.

Fitch said the money has been set aside primarily with the idea that it would be used at some point to build another public restroom, similar to the one in Sunshine Alley. He said that the council expects to soon consider shuffling the deck of its tourism funds, generated by a 4 percent tax on local sales, and earmark up to 2.5 percent for promotion, 1 percent for “infrastructure”, and to dedicate a half-percent for reserves.

He said the council also may soon consider establishing a process by which awards can be distributed through the facilities fund. Whether such a process will prove to be a financial windfall for the Guild remains to be seen, he said.

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