Gateway: Opinion

From the Helm: Storefront Studio study presents good ideas, but will any ever materialize?

Tyler Hemstreet, Gateway editor
Tyler Hemstreet, Gateway editor The News Tribune

Last week, about 50 residents gathered at the Harbor History Museum to hear the University of Washington Storefront Studio Presentation.

The Downtown Storefront Studio started more than two months ago. The study was coordinated by the Downtown Waterfront Alliance and led by Professor Jim Nicholls. Graduate students in Architecture and Planning met with a balanced panel of citizens and conducted two open house meetings to listen to citizen opinions about the community and their ideas. The study presents creative ideas for development that the community and property owners may want to consider.

The study focused on the key downtown block bordered by Harborview, Pioneer, Soundview and Judson streets. The students came to call this the “Harbor Commons.”

Key goals for the area included Connecting the Community, Creation of Pedestrian Opportunities, Provision of Adequate Parking, Preservation of Views, Saving Significant Structures and Trees, and Providing Flexible Options for Community Spaces and Buildings.

Suggestions for the Harbor Commons include significant open public space and parking for 455 cars.

That is quite the list of suggestions for that spot of land. That area is a magnet for developers, and represents Ground Zero in downtown Gig Harbor development. If someone were to get a project completed there, it might mean that the floodgates could open for the rest of downtown.

But don’t bet on it in this current climate.

The Storefront Study results represent a nice collection of ideas from the UW students. Those ideas embody a community and area that would serve the needs of all generations. But bold ideas don’t fly downtown.

A parking garage or a group of mixed-use buildings with underground spaces would be perfect for 455 cars. Would it help? Yes. Will it get done? No.

Look at how much hand-wringing the One Harbor Point proposed development is bringing — and it hasn’t even been officially approved!

The studio project also suggested plazas and play areas. Some in the community are already complaining about traffic downtown, and nothing of large significance that would bring more people into the core has been built yet.

These recommendations are spot-on for a growing city that welcomes new residents and has a long-term vision that mirrors that sentiment. But until that sentiment is wholly embraced by city leaders who can find a way to acknowledge the city’s heritage while finding a middle ground that accommodates the changing needs of the community, there will be a development stalemate downtown.

In September, a book will be published which fully describes the studio’s recommendations. It will be made available to the city, community organizations and citizens by the Downtown Waterfront Alliance.

Nicholls said the community should be patient in reviewing these ideas for the future. The book will help us understand the best practices recommended by the students. In some communities, significant individuals and organizations have come to invest in and support ideas such as those presented, Nicholls said.

The major question is whether those organizations or individuals will come forward in a community that is grappling with its identity.

Tyler Hemstreet: 253-358-4150, @gateway_tyler