Two Port Townsend historical properties vie for funding glory

PORT TOWNSEND — The two Port Townsend historical properties competing against each other and 23 others statewide for a portion of a $1 million grant award are faring quite differently.

The schooner Adventuress, docked at the Northwest Maritime Center at the end of Water Street, was in first place for the grant award as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Customs House at 1322 Washington St., was in 16th place.

But, say supporters of the historic building which now houses the city’s post office, the end result could be a modern version of the fable about the tortoise and the hare.

Last week, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in San Francisco announced the contest, which will give away a total of $1 million for the support of 25 historic sites in the state.

The amounts of the grants will be determined by the number of online votes that each site attracts — and people can vote as often as they wish for their favorites.

Voting continues until midnight, May 12. After all votes are in, the winner will be announced, and will receive its full requested amount.

The remaining 24 sites will share the rest, subject to a decision by the sponsors.

Supporters of the Adventuress seek $100,000 to renovate the schooner’s stern, while those cheering for the Customs House — an 1893 building originally constructed to house U.S. Customs — are looking for $125,000 toward the development of handicapped access.

Adventuress

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Adventuress had 16 percent of the total vote and, as the top pick statewide, was just ahead of its nearest rival, Town Hall Seattle.

“We are excited about this,” said Catherine Collins, executive director of Sound Experience, which owns the ship.

“We have an incredible grassroots effort, and are using word of mouth to get people to vote for us, many times.”

The Customs House, by comparison, had garnered by Tuesday only 3 percent of the vote.

These listings are unspecific. Five other properties were listed with 3 percent of the vote. The sponsors will not divulge actual vote totals or the number of votes cast.

The order on the site does reflect the vote sequence, and the Customs House’s 3 percent is greater than the 3 percent drawn by the 17th place site.

Success in the contest depends upon the ability to mobilize support and get people to go online, register and vote.

“We’ve been doing these competitions for five years,” said Anthony Veerkamp, senior program officer for the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in San Francisco.

“In many cases, someone who is near the bottom is able to shoot toward the top quickly, because they tap a new resource or are able to get more people involved.”

With that in mind, supporters of the Customs House may improve their numbers soon enough.

Customs House: disabled access

“Our best hook is that we are the only one that is dealing with access for the disabled,” said Port Townsend Deputy Mayor George Randels.

“We need to get that message out and get people involved, since there are millions of potential votes we can get from people who are concerned about that issue.”

The Customs House now provides no access for those who can’t climb the outside stairs to get inside the building.

Instead, the U.S. Postal Service provides drive-up service for people with disabilities, while seeking an accessible substation.

Port Townsend and the U.S. Postal Service are working on an agreement in which the Postal Service would turn the building over to the city in return for the city providing a separate facility from which trucks would sort and deliver the mail.

A city public development authority seeks to manage the historic building.

Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons has said that the remainder of the funding would come from other sources, and would make the building a more attractive rental once the public development authority takes over its ownership.

The Adventuress’ support system won’t slow down, despite its present lead in the contest, because people are mindful of how vote totals can change quickly.

“This is a horse race,” Collins said. “Just because we are in the lead today it doesn’t mean we will be in the lead tomorrow.

Collins said the closest Seattle competitors, Town Hall and the 5th Avenue Theater, “have incredible organizations that could vote in large numbers at any time.”

Eleven of the properties are in Seattle. The remainder includes the Bowman Bay Kitchen Shelter in Deception Pass State Park, the Ferry House at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island and the Point No Point Lighthouse in Hansville.

The two links for the projects are www.voteporttownsend.com and www.votefortheboat.com, and each cross links to the other.

Both sites link to www.preservationnation.org, where actual voting occurs and the top 10 list appears.

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Jefferson County reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

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