Waterfront Alliance works collectively

March 5, 2014 

The Gig Harbor Waterfront Alliance has what some might call a unique approach to doing business. What got its start under the national Main Street Program and was formerly known as the Gig Harbor Historic Waterfront Alliance has shifted its focus ever so slightly in the past year.

Instead of promoting just a section of town, the alliance concerns itself with the public image of the entire city. That means the whole waterfront, not just a slice of it, and it means connecting residents and potential visitors alike to other areas, such as the west side of Gig Harbor, where the Uptown and Point Fosdick shopping centers can be found, as well as Gig Harbor North, where the big-box retailers are located.

It’s subtle but effective because it’s bringing different stakeholders together for a common purpose instead of trying to compete against one another.

The DWA changed its name last year following a recommendation from a marketing group because it wanted to be more inclusive in its efforts to draw people downtown. Led by Executive Director Mary DesMarais and board president Gary Glein, the organization has put a high priority on visibility through public campaigns and advertising.

Yet it’s acting more like a driver of economic development than a marketing firm, and its underlying goal is to keep Gig Harbor financially stable with a revitalized downtown that features an appropriate core of businesses.

“It’s important to maintain the unique economic viability of downtown,” Glein said. “We have unique merchants. When you buy something from them, you’re buying from the owner.”

The alliance brings in those merchants from time to time for special events, such as last year’s rebranding campaign, a more wide-reaching event that included many other community members. Last month, the DWA hosted a retail seminar with special guest Frontdoor Back, a visual consulting company that focused on storefront design and aesthetics. Fifty people attended the 90-minute workshop, Glein said, and seven businesses were selected from a pool of applicants to receive a mini review and makeover.

“Once you get them there,” Glein said of customers, “how do you get them to buy something?”

The event was so successful that individual merchants later contacted the consultant to have her come back for one-on-one sessions.

It goes beyond downtown, though. The DWA was one of several participants — the city, chamber of commerce and Uptown Gig Harbor were the others — in last summer’s Get Around Town trolley that ran on an experimental basis with Pierce Transit. The half-hour sightseeing ride will be back this year and include stops at the town’s shopping areas. The trolley will run from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. The fare this year will be 50 cents.

Two other projects also demonstrate community investment.

The DWA is partnering with the Gig Harbor Morning Rotary Club to bring the Wine and Food Festival back to the Harbor History Museum this summer following a one-year hiatus due to construction at Donkey Creek. There will be more than 60 vendors, including distilleries, breweries and 20 restaurants who will be involved, and the group has secured Tom Douglas from Seattle Kitchen to be its celebrity chef. Douglas will tape his KIRO radio show on site, Glein said.

In another partnership with Rotary, the DWA has committed $40,000 to extend the Cushman Trail about 1,900 feet to reach the downtown area near the intersection of Harborview Drive and North Harborview Drive. It’s a continued effort not only to maintain the trail system, but it’s part of a larger concept of walkability and foot-traffic flow through the downtown core.

The waterfront alliance sees growth opportunities downtown, but it also knows Gig Harbor will be successful when all parts of the community work together for common goals. In this case, it’s the promotion of everything our town has to offer, from retailers to restaurants, and enhancing the public image to those who may not know all these wonderful opportunities exist.

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