Opinion

County Council should revote on Brickworks | Editorial

The San Juan County Council should vote again on the acquisition of conservation and historical preservation easements at 150 Nichols St., the proposed Brickworks site. And the council should approve it.

Opponents want to see the farmers market located at the San Juan County Fairgrounds. But 150 Nichols St. is more than a “farmers market” project. It’s proposed as an events center on a revitalized site in the downtown historic district. The farmers market is only one element. As proposed, it would provide a public green space, entertainment area, and venue for varied economic activities.

The Journal initially supported the Browne Lumber Co. site on Spring Street as a location for this project, but that site was not available. Since then, few projects have been as thought out and discussed and scrutinized as this one.

Let’s look at the evolution of the revitalization of the Sunshine Alley area.

— A 1981 town parking and traffic study envisioned 150 Nichols St. as part of a revitalized area of shopping and pedestrian ways.

— When Friday Harbor Center was rebuilt at First and Spring streets, the architect incorporated an alleyway as an extension of Sunshine Alley to improve the walkability of the area.

— The town developed public restrooms on Sunshine Alley (in a building, incidentally, built of cement blocks manufactured at the Brickworks site). The town also resurfaced the alley and relined it with brick.

— The Town Council backed off as a partner because it couldn’t get assurance from the state auditor that it could use lodging tax revenue as a source of investment funds. But the council has shown its support in other ways. It approved the construction of a sidewalk around the front of the Brickworks building, which was built on the lot line – no small decision, because the sidewalk will eliminate two parking spaces. And the council has shown a willingness to talk about ways to improve traffic flow on Nichols and Web streets.

— The purchase of the site has been the subject of numerous Land Bank meetings, which are always open to the public. The state Legislature saw the project’s public benefit and allocated $375,000 toward the purchase.

Parking? That will always be a concern, even when parking is available but requires a short walk. One advantage to the Brickworks project: Stand on the site and look up the walkway between the Palace Theater and the vacant pace next to John L. Scott Real Estate. You can see the Christian Science Church on Guard Street. It’s a proven theory that a consumer will park and walk if he or she can see their destination. Ask mall planners.

Protections for the county? The Agricultural Guild agreed to sell the property and reimburse the county if the Guild did not meet fundraising deadlines for restoration of the site.

Finally, preserving Brickworks preserves a building that has character and helps tell the story of our community. It would contribute to the ongoing revitalization of the Sunshine Alley area in a way that no condo project could.

With the fairgrounds overlay district approved, and the fairgrounds’ merger into the Parks Department, the fairgrounds has new opportunities for economic development. But we doubt that 150 Nichols St. will see another opportunity like this.

We urge the County Council to do the right thing and vote again on the Brickworks project (Council member Pratt must again abstain). And we encourage the council to approve the easement purchase.

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