Paul Cronauer.  [Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Profile]

Paul Cronauer. [Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Profile]

PENINSULA PROFILE: Businessman sees bright horizon for waterfront

PORT ANGELES — Friends, in separate conversations, all use the same word for Paul Cronauer.

Visionary.

This is a man, they say, who loves the wind, the water, the art and the music of this place.

And Cronauer, owner of The Landing mall, is the mind and heart behind this weekend’s Klallam Earth Day celebration — though he has been too ill to enjoy much of it.

Cronauer, 62, grew up in Agnew, graduated from Sequim High School and went off to work in Alaska and Alberta, Canada, developing real estate projects. And since he and his wife Sarah met in 2001, the pair have traveled the globe, to spend New Year’s Days in far-off places.

But Cronauer has always kept a home here.

In 2006, he bought The Landing, and has since sought to make it a dynamic center of downtown. He and Sarah later opened Wine on the Waterfront, a wine bar with food and live music; they made space for art in the Long Gallery upstairs and the Landing Art Gallery downstairs, alongside a pair of popular restaurants, Downriggers and Smuggler’s Landing.

Yet Cronauer wants so much more. He wants to turn the Port Angeles waterfront into a place where people revel — in the above-mentioned pleasures that come with life in a coastal city.

But a number of forces have gotten in Cronauer’s way.

“We have a bureaucracy in Port Angeles,” he said, “that is not embracing of serious change.”

The city is one obstacle that has stood between Cronauer and realization of his waterfront vision.

Cancer is another, though Cronauer would rather not dwell on that. But he is seriously ill. He’s lost some 30 pounds — “you are so skinny,” Sarah says, kissing her husband’s cheek — and has had to rest at home during much of the planning for Earth Day activities sponsored by The Landing.

Yet Cronauer’s hopes for Port Angeles are undimmed. Though clearly suffering, he agreed to talk with a reporter about his community’s future long after Earth Day.

That fate has many facets, of course. Cronauer’s desire is to have them converge along the shoreline. He wants art, nature and commerce. He wants retail shops on the ground floor and residential suites upstairs.

And through it all, Cronauer wants a heightened awareness of, as he puts it, “how incredible this place is.”

Cronauer himself says, again and again, that he has been “lucky.” He’s been “very fortunate” to have been involved in Boy Scouts, to grow up in a small town, and then to see the world, sailing to the Gulf Islands of Canada, flying to the Galapagos islands of Ecuador.

En route to the Galapagos, the Cronauers spent time in Guayaquil, where the waterfront development known as the Malecon 2000 is a jewel of South America.

It used to be a slum, a narrow pathway along the Guayas River ridden with muggers and drug dealers. Then the Ecuadorean government collaborated with the private, nonprofit Malecon 2000 Foundation to transform the avenue, and open it up into a wide boardwalk.

Today, the Malecon, with its gardens, fountains, shops, restaurants, bars and boarding docks for river cruises, is considered a model of urban revitalization. After its completion in 1999, the World Health Organization declared the development a “healthy public space,” and millions of visitors flock to and through it since.

The Malecon is what Cronauer calls “an evolved design,” an example of what can be done in a port city. Nanaimo, B.C., is another example of a lively waterfront, and proof that cold weather isn’t a deal-breaker.

Back here at The Landing, the Cronauers have made progress on the path toward transformation. They poured some $1 million into renovating the mall. Wine on the Waterfront has become a popular gathering spot, especially in spring and summer.

When describing the flow of people through the wine bar, Sarah says it’s as though a switch is turned off Oct. 1 and flipped back on April 1.

Cronauer, meantime, has installed a wind turbine and lithium-ion batteries for energy storage, an essential piece of the renewable-power puzzle. He has talked with city power resource manager Phil Lusk about solar and wind generators and an electric-vehicle charger.

The charger is in the hoped-for column — Lusk said he and Cronauer talked about it last week “for maybe the 40th time.”

One of Cronauer’s visible successes, meantime, is known as Fish on the Fence. A little over four years ago he broached the idea of 20,000 painted wooden sea creatures mounted around The Landing. He wanted to raise awareness of the Arthur D. Feiro Marine Life Center, a city- and donation-funded aquarium beside the mall.

At the time, Feiro center board member Betsy Wharton had her doubts whether such a public art project could be done.

But then Cronauer started to recruit others, including Lincoln High School art teacher Melissa Klein. Klein and her students made fish — scores and scores of them.

Cronauer’s Fish on the Fence project took shape, to include an annual fundraising banquet for the Feiro and fish-painting tables at various Port Angeles festivals.

“It’s more than just a fundraiser for the Feiro,” Wharton said. Fish on the Fence is “a way for the community to own its waterfront.”

Wharton sees families walking on City Pier, surrounded by fish art — and then, if they glance up a little, they may well see another art installation: the big octopus Port Angeles sculptor Clark Mundy made out of copper and mounted over the doorway to the Feiro Marine Life Center.

Wharton has watched Cronauer wrangling with the city over his ideas for waterfront development. And “it seems like the harder the project is, the more he wants to tackle it.

“He won’t take no for an answer. I love that about Paul,” she said.

“He has a sense of fun, and a really active imagination. Our community needs people who won’t take no for an answer, somebody with a vision. He sees beauty on the waterfront, way down the road.”

Lusk, who has known Cronauer for only about two years, has stepped in to help organize Klallam Earth Day activities as Cronauer’s health has worsened.

Working together on energy projects, the city staffer and the mall owner have become good friends.

But “he is probably not universally loved,” Lusk adds. Cronauer has been at odds with government officials, and “probably a bit of a scamp, pushing boundaries” in his development projects. The developer has come up with many an idea that didn’t float — yet.

Still, Cronauer dreams out loud about more public art and more public gathering spots on the waterfront.

“He is a Renaissance man,” Lusk said, a man who understands technology and economics. Those are Lusk’s specialties. But Cronauer has also opened his friend’s eyes to other things.

“He has brought into my life an appreciation for art and beauty,” Lusk said.

That’s visible in the way Cronauer has filled The Landing with sculpture, paintings, photography and music.

There’s Mundy’s copper salmon run, spiraling around the staircase outside Downriggers. The photographers’ showcase known as the Long Gallery leads to the Wine on the Waterfront entrance. Inside WoW, as it’s known, is a lounge open to all ages where singer-songwriters, harpists and bands play on weekends.

Downstairs, there is one of the largest artists’ cooperatives on the North Olympic Peninsula: the Landing Art Gallery, where manager Sharon Shenar has seen, up close, Cronauer’s delight in art.

“Paul has given me everything I asked for to make the gallery as good as it is,” she said. Cronauer approved a move to a larger space and added more lighting and a big glass door.

The Landing Art Gallery has 55 member artists now, Shenar said, and the owner has made a point of getting to know many of them.

Last December, Cronauer also donated Landing mall space to the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, so it could have its Art Is a Gift sale downtown.

“Whatever we can do to put art there,” said Shenar, “makes him happy.”

Cronauer also wants to have more art outside; he has seen monuments and sculptures on other waterfronts around the world, and envisions at least one such structure for Port Angeles, perhaps where Peabody Creek flows into the strait.

All of this could benefit the city, he believes, by attracting visitors and by giving Port Angeles’ own residents a closer connection to the waterfront.

“Paul is an out-of-the-box thinker,” added Lusk. “He wants to engage his community in a way that will change us and bring us forward.”

Cronauer sees this weekend’s Earth Day events as steps on a path to a deeper awareness of both the beauty and the challenges we face.

“If we can get the kids outside,” he said, “if we can get a few hundred people off the couch,” the events will have been a success.

Cronauer is fond of long beach forays.

And if he can’t get out for one of those, he simply goes out to stand on the dock, to look into the blue.

“Every day is different,” he says. “With the Lincoln [High School] kids, I ask them to go out on the dock with me, and just stand, and look. This is all ours. It is an amazing gift.”

If we care for these waters, Cronauer believes, they will provide for us.

Flashing a big, boyish smile, he adds: “My aspirations are pretty simple.”

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