Gateway: Opinion

From the Helm: Can evening dining and Millville neighborhood residents coexist? We’ll see

Owners John and Alyssa Ross outside of their new restaurant, Millville Pizza Company, in Gig Harbor.
Owners John and Alyssa Ross outside of their new restaurant, Millville Pizza Company, in Gig Harbor. jbessex@gateline.com

While going through some of our archives, I came across a column that I wrote late last year as 2015 was ending. It talked about a few area developments my staff and I were keeping our eye on in 2016. One of the things on that list? Restaurant-related projects in the waterfront Millville neighborhood.

I wrote at the time: “And how can we leave out the everlasting debate about development on the downtown waterfront? After five months of deliberation, a code amendment that would allow other restaurant types in a portion of waterfront Millville was finally approved by the Gig Harbor City Council back in May (of 2015). While there hasn’t been any breaking of ground on restaurant-related projects down there recently, the process of getting approved for permits moves at a snail’s pace. I think this is going to be something that builds off of an initial opening.”

Fast forward to today, and bingo! The Millville Pizza Company is set to officially open Tuesday (Dec. 13) in a space that was formerly occupied by a nail salon.

I previously wrote about Millville residents having concerns surrounding noise and parking when it came to any potential restaurant staying open later than 6 p.m.; Millville Pizza Company will stay open until 9:30 p.m.

Last week while working to get the place ready for opening, Millville Pizza Company owner and operator John Ross said many curious passersby stopped in to check out the place and express their excitement over the restaurant’s opening. Those visits included some residents who live in the Millville neighborhood.

Most of the feedback was positive; some expressed concern, Ross said.

“That’s completely understandable,” he said of the concerns about parking and potential noise levels.

When the code amendment change to the area was initially being proposed, I recall some residents picturing doom and gloom in the neighborhood, with bars slinging mixed drinks deep into the night and patrons stumbling loudly out to their cars after closing time. Others mentioned fast food places moving in and taking over a quaint part of downtown.

But what we have right now is far from that worse-case scenario. The 38-year-old Ross, a Gig Harbor native who previously had a stint as executive director of the Harbor History Museum, knows the vibe of the neighborhood and, as a first-time restauranteur, wants to keep things simple.

“We don’t want to overextend ourselves,” said Ross, whose wife, Alyssa, will also play a key role in the business’ operations. “Our focus is on the pizza.”

Immersed in a culture of downtowns becoming more walkable, Ross hopes the restaurant will become a favorite spot of Millville residents because they can open their door and be sitting down for dinner 10 to 15 minutes later. Others might stop in on a walk down Harborview Drive on their way to a destination somewhere else in downtown.

“We’d like to think (the restaurant) doesn’t disrupt the flow or the character of Millville,” he said.

Will there be busy nights where there are more cars parked along Harborview than usual? Perhaps. Will there be so many cars that activity spills deeper into the surrounding neighborhood? Maybe. There are some questions that have yet to be answered.

But Ross and his wife plan on being a steady presence at the restaurant — especially in the early stages. And that means addressing neighborhood concerns and keeping open lines of communication.

Maybe once residents and visitors see that everything can coexist relatively peacefully, other business owners will eventually take the plunge. But that is not what it’s about for Ross and his wife.

“This isn’t about being a pioneer,” he said. “We’re excited about the cool things happening downtown and we want to be a part of that.”

Tyler Hemstreet: 253-358-4150, themstreet@gateline.com, @gateway_tyler

Editor’s note: The print version of this story indicated an opening date of Friday (Dec. 9), but that date was pushed back after the paper went to press.

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