PORT TOWNSEND — Construction of the long-awaited Howard Street Extension will begin Monday.
Community members and representatives of the city, county, state and federal governments gathered at the dead-end intersection of Howard and Sixth streets in Port Townsend on Friday to break ground on the project.
The extension will connect West Sims Way and Discovery Road, relieving some of the congestion on Sims Way and allowing for more commercial development in the area, according to City Engineer David Peterson.
Local company Seton Construction Inc. won the bid for the project. It’s not the firm’s first time working with the city of Port Townsend; Seton was also the contractor for the Sims Way roundabouts — one of which connects to Howard Street.
Construction of the $6.5 million expansion is expected to be completed in May 2017. The new thoroughfare will have ample space for new or expanding businesses and will be pedestrian- and bike-friendly, with sidewalks and a two-lane bike path, according to Peterson.
“We want this to be a vibrant and thriving area,” said Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson.
“It’s going to jump-start a lot of economic development. The vision is to have artisanal manufacturing with a little retail and possibly housing above.”
The groundbreaking Friday was the culmination of more than 20 years of planning. Howard Street’s designation as a thoroughfare for both tourist and residential traffic dates back to a 1994 city arterial plan.
However, according to former Mayor Brent Shirley, plans for Howard Street date back to the ’80s, when the area around Howard and Sixth streets was rezoned from residential to commercial.
“We felt there was nowhere to put new businesses as Port Townsend grew,” Shirley said. “If we don’t pull it off now, I don’t think we ever will, and Port Townsend needs this kind of development.”
This promise of economic growth has helped fund the extension, with multiple state and federal agencies providing funding in the form of grants and loans. The Federal Highway Administration, Washington State Transportation Improvement Board and state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) have contributed, according to Peterson.
“You’re going to demonstrate that by putting in much-needed infrastructure, you can grow the economy,” said CERB member and state Sen. Maralyn Chase, a Democrat from Esperance who serves the 32nd Legislative District and who was one of the speakers at Friday’s groundbreaking.
The development of the Howard Street Extension is part of the city’s long-term plan to diversify and strengthen the local economy, according to City Manager David Timmons.
The plan took shape after ferry shutdowns and bridge construction in the early 2000s threatened Port Townsend’s summer tourism, a major part of the local economy, he said.
After that, city officials focused on three “anchors” for the city’s economy — waterfront and maritime, Fort Worden and commercial industrial development along Sims Way.
According to Timmons, the Howard Street Extension is the final part of the planned development of Sims Way by providing more space for new or growing businesses and connecting the east and west sides of town.
“This is a planned investment in the community,” Timmons said. “We want to see the people we have here grow here.”
Already Mt. Townsend Creamery is looking to make the move from its current location on Sherman Street to a new, bigger location along the Howard Street Extension.
“We’ve been at capacity now for two years,” said Ryan Trail, Mt. Townsend Creamery co-founder and CEO.
“We’ve been trying to find a new place to grow into for the past five years, but at that time, we didn’t see any good locations.”
With the area around the Howard Extension now rezoned for commercial use, Trail said, the company was able to find and invest in land near the new development.
While Trail said the firm has no set timeline for the move, he added that the firm is in the process of designing and getting the correct permits for a new building along Howard Street.
“The ball is kind of in our court now,” Trail said.
While Mt. Townsend Creamery is currently the only local business looking seriously at developing the Howard Street Extension, Timmons said he’s heard of a few other businesses that may be interested and he’s hopeful more businesses will commit once the expansion begins to take shape.
“People are supportive of it, but I don’t think they believe it’s going to happen,” Timmons said.
“It’s been in the works for a long time, and I think people are waiting to see it in reality. Now that it’s real, we’ll start to see more interest.”
East Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at [email protected].