Gateway: Opinion

From the Helm: How to improve downtown Gig Harbor? Find a happy medium

Tyler Hemstreet
Tyler Hemstreet The News Tribune

I got the chance to meet last week with some residents and business owners who are concerned that there has been a lot of talk — and continues to be — in various social circles and on the Opinion page of this newspaper that strongly portrays a sentiment of negativity surrounding any kind of development in downtown Gig Harbor.

There are many projects, either headed up by the city of Gig Harbor, private business owners or companies, that have to do with changing some element of the downtown waterfront. There is a wide array of issues concerned citizens can raise their voice over. My staff and I have fielded emails and phone calls about everything from proposed building heights that block views and development that allegedly disrupts birds’ nesting habits to concerns about a sudden influx of fast food joints and raging bars and restaurants that stay open until all hours of the night.

Those who take less of a knee-jerk reaction to certain development rumors can gradually begin to ask themselves how might a development idea or plan change, improve or transform into something over time that seems logical and progressive for the city. As much as some would like to see it, I believe that the downtown waterfront can’t just remain status quo as the city continues to grow and more people continue to embrace the activities and businesses that occupy the prime spot in town.

The point the group was expressing to me is that there is a happy medium — which doesn’t get talked about enough — between out-of-control development that threatens to ruin the quaint charm and well-planned and carefully considered development in certain areas of downtown that can make a majority of citizens happy and proud of what a crown jewel they have in Gig Harbor.

Now that doesn’t mean the impact of large or intimidating projects will be blown out of proportion.

I’ve spoken to many business owners and developers, and there is a common sentiment that in order for downtown to really blossom, a solution needs to be found for the lack of parking spots. Whether that solution means building an underground lot as part of the proposed Peninsula Shopping Center project or constructing a three-story garage on another plot of land, a project like that has the potential to create a lot of shouting matches and tense City Council meetings.

Heck, once people got wind of the proposed plan in late April to use a Boating Infrastructure Grant to create additional recreational moorage at Jerisich and Maritime docks, there was pandemonium at one of the public hearings.

There was even some chirping about Olympic Property Group’s proposal to develop the shopping center by adding housing and a pavilion-like structure for residents, nonprofits and community groups to utilize. Again, some things have to change in order to make progress.

So what does that progress look like? Everyone likely has their own vision. I think I have a reasonably concept of what people want: a better variety of restaurants, a variety of places to browse for items after eating and walking, and maybe a few more places to sit and enjoy a beverage while overlooking the harbor.

What’s going to be the impediment to finding a happy medium for downtown? For starters, it’s bickering over ways to keep things the same and refusing to keep an open mind when it comes new ideas.

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

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