Brickworks: vision becomes reality | Guest Column

A view from Nichols Street of the outside of the Brickworks building in Friday Harbor.   - Journal file photo
A view from Nichols Street of the outside of the Brickworks building in Friday Harbor.
— image credit: Journal file photo

By Stephen Robins

Special to the Journal

Just over four years ago I wrote a guest column in this newspaper urging the town council to support the creation of what could be a transformative project in the center of Friday Harbor. I ended with “Build the pubic gathering place – they will all come!”

Today — Brickworks!

I claim no personal victory. Rather, it came about because of the extraordinary effort of hundreds of people who committed time, expertise, money, passion and enthusiasm and hard physical labor to the project.

Four years later: Over 30,000 hours of unpaid volunteer time. More than $1.5 million in individual contributions large and small (more than two-thirds of the funds raised). Critically important initial state funding.

And last but not least, the active support of a new town administrator leading to the town council stepping back in with a significant matching grant that in turn helped fuel a dramatic uptick in private donations this past year.

Lets look at what we all now have.

S. RobinsA dramatic revitalization of what was previously a blighted yet historic property right in the heart of town. A paved open plaza and grassy green space, the interior gutting of what had become a dilapidated rabbit warren of a building, and the creation in its stead a large, bright, open, multi-use space with soaring ceiling and dramatic wooden trusses, new windows and doors, all constructed from materials recycled from the original approximately 100-year-old building. A beautiful wooden floor locally milled and kiln dried from donated old island firs.

And most recently the addition of a fully fitted commercially certified kitchen made possible by another extraordinarily generous local-targeted donation.

In just six months since its grand opening, Brickworks has quickly captured not just the imagination of those who live here or visit, but also their hearts. A Saturday farmers market larger than ever before, with—finally—indoor set-up space. Bracketed in the summer by an increasingly popular art market on Fridays and the new experimental eclectic gathering of Sundays@Brickworks.

It hasn’t stopped there. Already, Brickworks has hosted concerts, celebratory lunches and dinners, group meetings, discussion forums, wedding dinner rehearsals, Qi Gong classes, poetry readings, a variety of special parties (birthday, private clubs, staff appreciation), and even a formal town council meeting. Upcoming, this year’s Teen New Year’s Eve party.

With the renovation project all but complete, the Ag Guild is now turning to develop its long-planned multi-faceted educational program covering the closely inter-related topics of food – its production, its consumption, its intimate relationship with healthy living. Invited speakers, workshops, forums, cooking demonstrations, documentary films – indeed, any activity that furthers a deeper appreciation of the agriculture–food–health continuum.

The successful completion of the Brickworks project has also helped catalyze renewed interest in what many have long envisioned—an inviting and accessible public gathering place, a true town center for all.

Just imagine what might emerge as Brickworks, Sunshine Alley, the various adjacent properties and businesses, and the community at large actively engage with the town’s newly hired consulting urban planning group.

How extraordinary and truly transformative the entire block could become if all collaborate. The imagining is spreading.

Responding to the Ag Guild’s final year-end push to completely pay off the remaining mortgage (www.fhbrickworks.com), several donors have recently stepped forward with additional generous donations and matching challenges to encourage others to do likewise.

Just a few more can make all the difference, enabling the project to finally be self-sustaining and no longer dependent on contributions.

Brickworks. We have built it. Now – as a community – lets own it.

— Editor’s note: Stephen Robins is founder and owner of Pelindaba Lavender. He serves on the boards of SJI Visitors Bureau and SJI Ag Guild (though the views above are personal).

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