The University of Washington’s Storefront Studio class held its first open house at the historic Skansie Brothers House in downtown Gig Harbor last Wednesday.
The class brings 10 graduate students and seniors from the school’s architecture, landscape architecture and planning programs to the city for the summer in order to review downtown buildings, properties and open spaces and develop recommendations for historic preservation, economic development and other concerns.
The project, a partnership with the Downtown Waterfront Alliance, is based at the historic house on Harborview Drive.
On Wednesday, the class opened its doors to the public from 4 to 7 p.m. Visitors, including members of the Gig Harbor City Council, downtown business owners and interested residents, were given tours of the posters on display throughout the renovated house. Each poster highlighted one of the 10 sites along the harbor that the class had identified for study, and it gave examples of the kinds of design and usage recommendations students have come up with.
The class will not complete its project until Aug. 22, and students will take comments they hear from community members at each open house into account in their final recommendations.
The posters displayed last week showed only the preliminary stages of the project. But the class already has identified several potential changes to each site, including a few large-scale public projects.
The sites are the Finholm District, the Austin Estuary area near the Harbor History Museum, Eddon Boat Park, the Ancich netshed and adjacent property, Arabella’s Landing, Skansie Brothers Park, the downtown business core, the historic Washington Egg & Poultry Co-Op building near the Tides Tavern, the lighthouse and old ferry landing at the mouth of Gig Harbor Bay, and Harborview Drive, which connects the sites.
Proposals ranged from the small, such as expanding mixed-use storefront access at Arabella’s Landing, to the large, such as building an enclosed saltwater swimming pool at Skansie Brothers Park.
Some ideas dealt with commercial construction and rehabilitation, while others, such as a proposal to develop the Washington Egg & Poultry Co-Op building into a community farmers market and gathering space, thought bigger.
“These spaces need intervention to make them more friendly for commercial activity and for visitors,” said Christian Van Waasen, a second-year UW graduate student who grew up and still lives in Gig Harbor. “The water is the focal point (of the city).”
Van Waasen, who is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture and landscape architecture, decided to join the Storefront Studio project after he learned it would take place in his hometown. The only participating student from Gig Harbor, he joined his classmates as they escorted visitors through the Skansie Brothers House on Wednesday.
“The more I looked into it, the more I thought, ‘You know, Gig Harbor needs a bit of a facelift,’ ” Van Waasen said. “I knew my efforts would hit close to home.”
The project kicked off on June 27, when the students visited Gig Harbor for a tour of downtown and had a meeting with community stakeholders. Van Waasen said a main focus of the discussion was how to create so-called “half-day experiences” – attractions that would make tourists and Gig Harbor residents alike want to spend a significant amount of time downtown near the water.
Since then, a few students were assigned to each of the 10 sites to conceptualize improvements that would bring more traffic to each area.
For example, the proposal for the Austin Estuary area suggests building “environmental learning labs” next to the Harbor History Museum, and building stores, galleries and work spaces along Donkey Creek.
Open house attendees were largely impressed with the students’ presentations.
“I think it’s very, very positive,” said John Lantz, a longtime Raft Island resident. “I’m excited about their concepts; I think this can help revitalize the harbor.”
Lantz said the co-op building proposal for a farmers market excited him the most, and he added the space could become a centerpiece of the community. Joyce Murray, another visitor, said the same, and she added she was encouraged by many of the proposals’ embrace of sailing, kayaking and other maritime activities.
“I think they’ve captured some wonderful concepts about open space and water’s edges,” said Murray, a volunteer with the environmental organization Harbor WildWatch. “This will help us walk around with new eyes.”
That was the first open house’s main purpose, Van Waasen said.
“We wanted to get the gears in motion, so people could start to visualize what could be done with these sites,” he said.
The next open houses will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 7 and Aug. 21. For reports from previous Storefront Studio projects, or to track the students’ progress in Gig Harbor, visit www.storefrontstudio.org.Reporter Will Livesley-O’Neill can be reached at 253-358-4152 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_will.