PORT TOWNSEND — Water Street got busier than usual Monday morning with people carrying whale bones and baleen to the front of a particular historic building.
“Today we celebrate a day of audacious hope,” said Diane Baxter, president of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) board, while standing in front of Flagship Landing, the center’s new acquisition.
The nonprofit center, based at Fort Worden State Park for close to four decades, has purchased the building at 1001 Water St. for $2.2 million.
In a move to be phased over several years, the 19th century shopping mall will become PTMSC headquarters, complete with the center’s exhibits, gift shop, laboratories and offices.
On Monday, executive director Janine Boire, holding a gray whale scapula bone in her hands, spoke to a small crowd of PTMSC supporters and city officials, explaining the need for the move.
The pier at Fort Worden, where the PTMSC’s aquarium sits, is nearing the end of its useful life, Boire said. The center’s leaders participated in State Parks’ planning efforts and, when it became clear a smaller pedestrian pier was best for the marine environment, the PTMSC board began the hunt for a new home.
Flagship Landing, at 14,640 square feet, is in the middle of downtown, on the waterfront, flanked by Tyler Street Plaza.
“Not only does [this location] give us the flexibility to move in over time, but most importantly, by bringing new life to this historic 132-year-old building, we dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of the project,” Boire said.
“The location also provides us with an exceptional opportunity to showcase best practices in shoreline redevelopment for a healthier marine environment.”
The first phase of the move will happen next spring: the PTMSC’s gift shop and dry exhibits will arrive in the vacant center space of Flagship Landing.
The PTMSC will honor the tenants’ leases as it moves in, Boire said. These include shops — Prima Materia, Foundware Jewelry and Flagship Market — alongside Quench Waterfront Kitchen and Bar, Take 5 Art Gallery, Salon Beleza, Medicine Dance Counseling, Peninsula Homecare Cooperative and Jen Light Photography.
Phase two will unfold over the following several years. The PTMSC will need time to refine building plans, work with tenants, obtain permits and mount a fundraising campaign.
The center plans to keep its aquarium on the Fort Worden pier as long as possible to ensure a smooth transition. The long-term plan, Boire said, is to maintain a presence at the fort by converting the current museum building into an environmental learning center field station.
The state park has been home to the PTMSC since 1982 when cofounders Libby Palmer and Judy D’Amore gathered support to build an aquarium in the wooden building on the pier on Battery Way.
In 2001, the aquarium was renovated and a museum was opened in a building onshore across from the pier, providing more space for exhibits, classes, offices and the gift shop. The articulated skeleton of Hope, a transient orca whale stranded near Dungeness Spit in 2002, is suspended from the ceiling.
This weekend, a new exhibit, “Orca: Shared Waters, Shared Home,” is set to open at the PTMSC. Inspired by Lynda Mapes’ book of the same name, it’s an image- and text-rich display about the Southern Resident orcas.
The exhibit is included in the price of admission to the center: $7 for adults, $5 for youth ages 6 to 17, and free for children 5 and younger. The center is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
With its 10-member staff plus a volunteer crew, the PTMSC continues offering public programs — low tide walks, camps and classes for children and teens — and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the Sound Toxins community science program and the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve bird and mammal survey.
To find out more, see www.ptmsc.org or phone 360-385-5582.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]