Town climbs onboard Brickworks bandwagon

Town officials weren’t quite sure what to do about the Brickworks project three years ago.

While most acknowledged that restoration of the dilapidated building on Nichols Street, with its footprint reaching into Sunshine Alley, could help spark a revitalization in the heart of the town, the Friday Harbor Town Council shied away from investing public money in the fledgling project, which at that time was awash in uncertainty.

Skepticism surrounding the project only increased when the County Council quashed a pending purchase of a conservation easement on the building by the Land Bank, which would have helped subsidize its remodel.

Times have changed.

The San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, owner of Brickworks, last week announced the receipt of a $100,000 matching grant from the town, allocated by way of the town lodging tax fund. Under terms of the agreement, the grant is earmarked for capital expenditures and facility related improvements, and  will be issued as matches to other private or public donations, or grants or gifts toward the project.

“We are totally delighted with this extraordinary demonstration of support by the town for what we have long believed would be a mutually rewarding project,” Ag Guild Chairwoman Susie Wampler said in a press release.  “Along with other recent major donations and matching grants as well as an increasing number of smaller personal donations, we are under full steam to achieve our goal of opening the facility in time for the summer farmer’s market, art market and other community-oriented events.”

When completed, the Ag Guild expects Brickworks to serve as a significant local economic driver, bringing new life and sense of community to a previously underdeveloped and neglected part of the Friday Harbor downtown area. In addition to housing a year-round farmers market, the Brickworks building is expected to host a variety of community and cultural events. Its outdoor plaza already has served as a location for a weekly summer arts market and music venue.

The Ag Guild received more than $120,000 in grants in the last half of 2012 and previously stated a goal of $240,000 to fund restoration of the building, the former site of the Friday Harbor Brick & Tile Company and last remaining industrial building in the heart of the town.

“I am so optimistic about what this means for Friday Harbor,” said Mayor Carrie Lacher.  “In addition to enhancing the community, I expect this investment will provide opportunities for new partnerships between the Ag Guild and the Town.”

Town Councilman Steve Hushabeck credits the Ag Guild for its fortitude in pursuit of the completing the project in spite of its setbacks.

“Three years ago there were a lot of unknowns at that point and a lot of ‘what ifs’,” Hushabeck said of the council’s past concerns. “I had my doubts, yes, but I was always hopeful. At this point I think they’ve crossed the Rubicon.”

Hushabeck, chairman of the town Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, notes that Brickworks has much more to offer in the way of activities than just a home for a year-round farmers market.

“The Brickworks project is uniquely situated and will promote a town-square feeling in the downtown core,” he said. “I am glad that Friday Harbor is participating in the effort to preserve our history and promote tourist activities that mean so much to our businesses.”


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