Marine research campus envisioned as part of Port Angeles waterfront project

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Plans for a new marine research and public outreach center on the Port Angeles waterfront are hinging on the results of a predesign study that will be available in draft form in December, city business leaders learned earlier this week.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Carol Bernthal and Feiro Marine Life Center Director Deborah Moriarty told Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce members Monday that they're running out of space, and one solution would be a multi-agency marine campus tied into the city's waterfront redevelopment plan.

Optimize opportunity

“We feel that there's an opportunity that exists now in Port Angeles that we want to optimize,” Bernthal said at the chamber luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel.

The marine center would be located somewhere between Hollywood Beach and the Valley Creek estuary, where the city has begun the first phase of its $17 million Downtown Waterfront Development Project with a $3.9 million rebuild of the waterfront esplanade.

The city, sanctuary and marine life center in June hired the Seattle consultant firm Miller Hull to conduct a $50,000 predesign study of a 20,000- to 30,000-­square-foot facility that would include science labs and a conference room with waterfront views.

A draft report from the consultant is expected in late December.

“At that point, each of the partner organizations would take a look at the recommendations that come out of it and decide where to go,” Bernthal said.

“Each one of us maintains our own decision-making at the end of this, and that's important.”

Renew lease

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will renew a one-year lease for the sanctuary's 7,150-square-foot headquarters at The Landing mall, which is shared by the Feiro Marine Life Center.

Moriarty said the Feiro Marine Life Center's existing space is too small for its lecture series, classes, exhibits and staff.

“And, honestly, the building is old,” Moriarty told a crowd of about 50 at the chamber luncheon.

“It smells strange.”

The sanctuary and marine life center each have developed long-range plans that call for expanded facilities.

NOAA's Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is a federally protected zone that stretches 135 miles from Cape Flattery to Grays Harbor County and extends 25 to 40 miles into the Pacific Ocean.

It has 18 staffers working on the top floor of the The Landing mall.

“We've been talking about what might be the city's interest, the Feiro's interest and the sanctuary's interest in the marine campus,” Bernthal said.

“We're very interested in how we can help support economic development in the communities that we work in. It's not just about preserving the ocean; it's about the communities.”

Sanctuary evaluating

Bernthal said the sanctuary is “closely evaluating” where it fits into the city's waterfront plan. She said the sanctuary would commit to a long-term lease in a new facility with a wet lab on the Port Angeles waterfront.

“I think it's one of those perfect-storm situations where you have kind of a lot of circumstances coming together,” Bernthal said.

“Stay tuned. A lot more details will be emerging.”

Bernthal added: “We have to be realistic about what we can do, but dream big and see where it goes.”

Port Angeles Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West said the city is seeking a “successful partnership between a variety of entities” to build a marine campus with a conference room on the waterfront.

“When we have visitors coming into town, we want to make sure that there's good opportunity for them to have their meetings and their conferences and things of that sort on the Port Angeles waterfront, making sure that they can appreciate the waterfront and mountain views that we have,” West said during the question-and-answer portion of the luncheon.

“So if there's an opportunity, with a variety of partners, to bring about a conference center or larger meeting room-type opportunity that the city can also utilize, we think that's a great opportunity to capitalize on.”

Interest expressed

The Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce also has expressed an interest in moving its visitor center to a marine campus.

“There is a lot of similarities to what we all do with respect to providing information about the area,” chamber Executive Director Russ Veenema told Bernthal and Moriarty.

“If an additional tenant, so to speak, is needed, we'd like to let you both know, officially, that we'd like to be a player.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 30. 2012 7:30PM
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