Sunday, April 14, 2013

Late Night Ferries Will NOT Save Downtown Port Orchard

Since leaving office as Port Orchard’s mayor at the end of 2011, I’ve made it a point to not publicly comment on the city’s politics — or what passes for management these days at City Hall. However, the recent push to establish late-night foot ferry service between downtown Port Orchard and Bremerton is a misguided non-solution to a much larger problem than backers want to admit.

The main driver is South Kitsap businessman Don Ryan, president of the Port Orchard Bay Street Association. He’s a used car dealer, who also owns a hair salon and a downtown bar. In addition, he’s promoting the proposed indoor farmer’s market, which he’s convinced people will jumpstart Bay Street, the town’s main drag — which now has more empty storefronts than occupied ones.

In our view, Ryan’s grasping at straws. He blames Kitsap Transit’s cut in evening service for downtown’s decline. That’s a red herring. Kitsap Transit didn't cut the service — Horluck Transportation did, which later sold the ferry service to Kitsap Transit. Why did they cut the service way back when Bay Street was booming? Because not enough people rode it for it to pencil. That alone proves people won’t take an evening ferry from Bremerton to come eat and drink in downtown Port Orchard — or vice versa. Aside from Ryan’s bar and Moondogs, or dinner at Amy’s on The Bay, there isn’t much to do downtown anymore — day or night — and not a lot else open after 7 p.m. except bail bond offices and tattoo parlors. What few storefronts that are still occupied on Bay Street aren’t the kind of establishments that do business at night, so downtown is basically closed.

Port Orchard would be better served spending that money restoring the funding to the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau — which produced a tremendous bang for the buck by actually drawing people downtown — both day and night — until the furtive politics surrounding the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee — which is run by Councilman Fred Chang for what seems primarily to be for the benefit of his political backers — slashed its funding in favor of squandering money on self-serving ideas like Ryan’s.

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