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State budget includes $375,000 for permanent farmers market project on Nichols Street

Top photo: The proposed farmers market site, looking from Sunshine Alley toward Nichols Street. Bottom photo: The site, looking from Sunshine Alley along Nichols Street. While the site is commonly referred to as the
Top photo: The proposed farmers market site, looking from Sunshine Alley toward Nichols Street. Bottom photo: The site, looking from Sunshine Alley along Nichols Street. While the site is commonly referred to as the 'permanent farmers market site,' a farmers market is only one component. The site will have green space which, connecting to the lawn next door at Nichols Walk, will be larger than the Sunken Park lawn. It will have an outdoor performance stage and an outdoor market area. The old cement plant building will have an indoor market space and a commercial kitchen. Architect David Waldron, a supporter of the project, has described the site as proposed as 'part small park and part town square.'
— image credit: Jane K. Fox

The San Juan Island Farmers Market will likely have a permanent home on Nichols Street soon.

The state Capital Budget approved by the state House of Representatives Tuesday includes $375,000 for the purchase of 150 Nichols St. for a permanent farmers market.

The funding was introduced in the state Senate by Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island. He had support in the House from Rep. Jeff Morris, D–Mount Vernon, who is also House speaker pro tem; and Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon.

Another 40th District project receiving capital funding: restoration of the Pickford Theater in Bellingham, $250,000.

“After a challenging legislative session during which we saw billions in funding cut out of the operating budget, I’m pleased we were able to do some good back home and help maintain the old theater and the Farmers Market on San Juan, two historic places that draw visitors from across the state and nation,” Morris said in an announcement of the funding.

The state Capital Budget supports infrastructure projects around the state, from school construction to park restoration. Other projects include energy retrofit projects for school and university buildings, new higher education buildings on university and college campuses, projects for Puget Sound restoration and improvement of fresh water quality, working family housing projects, increased toxic clean-up projects, assistance to small forest landowners, forest fire and forest disease prevention projects, and public safety projects.

The funding for the Farmers Market project comes as welcome relief for the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, which faces a deadline of June 30 to purchase the site from Bill and Joan Erickson, former owners of Friday Harbor Electric.

The San Juan County Land Bank has committed $400,000 toward the $775,000 purchase; in exchange, the Land Bank will get a historical preservation and conservation easement on the site. But Feb. 25, the Friday Harbor Town Council pulled its proposed contribution of $375,000 in lodging tax money, saying it wasn't convinced the state auditor would approve the allocation. If the town had made the investment, it would have become the site's owner.

At the time, San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild Project Director Lovel Pratt — who is also a County Council member — said the guild would seek new funding. "The Ag Guild is committed to moving forward with the project. We're confident we'll find other funding sources."

The Nichols Street site is historically significant. It was originally the Boede Cement Plant and dates to the 1890s, according to the town Historical Preservation Office.

"The last industrial building still standing in Friday Harbor, this barn-like building ... is believed to have been in operation as early as the 1890s," according to HistoricFridayHarbor.org.

The cement plant "produced the distinctive cement blocks that were used to build Friday Harbor Town Hall and other local commercial buildings still in use today. Samples of the company's product decorate the masonry portions of the front and rear facades of the building."

The public restroom in Sunshine Alley, formerly a house, was built of cement blocks made at this plant. That fact compelled the town to convert the existing building, rather than tear it down and build a new restroom building.

While the site is commonly referred to as the "permanent farmers market site," a farmers market is only one component. The site will have green space which, connecting to the lawn next door at Nichols Walk, would be larger than the Sunken Park lawn. It will have an outdoor performance stage and an outdoor market area. The old cement plant building will have an indoor market space and a commercial kitchen.

Architect David Waldron, a supporter of the project, has described the site as proposed as "part small park and part town square."

Mayor Carrie Lacher, who supported the project as a council member, said of the funding, "It's just terrific. I really do believe that it can be a revitalization factor in that area. Claiming that area for something attractive will be fabulous. I walked through that area this morning. To see it transformed into a respite and a commercial hub will be great."

Parking and traffic congestion are expected to be issues as the project progresses.

In December, Lacher raised an idea someone presented to her as a way to improve traffic flow and parking near the proposed market: Make Nichols and Web streets one-way streets with angled parking.

"No matter what went in there, there was going to be parking problems," she said. "But I didn't want that to be one of the things the project got hung up on. (Parking) is a town-wide issue. It's not specific to that project."

Lacher said she attended a meeting Tuesday morning of the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce Parking Committee. She said the committee is discussing "terrific ideas" for improving parking downtown, but added that those ideas "are in their infancy stages."

Likewise, committee member Eddie Williams of the Hot Shop & Flavor Emporium, 260 Spring St., didn't want to discuss ideas at this point because discussions are so new. But he did say, "We do have some great ideas," adding, "We need to manage our parking."

Land Bank Commission Chairwoman Amanda Azous said it's "utterly amazing" that the Ag Guild was able to get funding for the project.

"That's really good news. It will be a real centerpiece for the town. Once again, we can thank Kevin for helping us out in the San Juans."

Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann said of the project, "It's pretty difficult to imagine anything that happens there not being an incredibly positive step. It's a place everyone avoids. The idea of turning it into an attractive place in town where everyone wants to go, has to be a positive for everyone."

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