By Meghan Hall
Fort Worden Historical State Park, located in Port Townsend, Wash., was originally designed as a military base to protect the Puget Sound and includes more than 100 historic structures along the coast. However, at nearly 434 acres, the Park was consistently running on a deficit, and in 2005 the State began a three-year public visioning process in an effort to evaluate whether to keep the Park running or to sell the property to a private developer. The decision was made to make every effort to save the Park, and in October 2015 Port Townsend and the Fort Worden Public Development Agency (PDA) published its Program Development and Capital Improvement Plan for a 90-acre portion of the park, known as “The Campus.” Now, nearly four years later, the PDA has selected its General Contractor for Phase I of the project — to be called Makers Square.
“Despite national and statewide recognition of Fort Worden as a site of historic, cultural and economic significance, limited public funding and competing state legislative priorities have threatened the future of this treasured site,” explained Megan Claflin, the Grants and Public Relations Manager for Fort Worden. “Fort Worden was a cumbersome responsibility for Washington State, far more than most state parks anywhere in the U.S., largely because it features over 448,000 sq. ft. of historic facilities that require skilled long-term care.”
As of 2010, Fort Worden State Park was losing one million in annual operating expenses while facing $78 million in capital building deficiencies. Only an average of $2 to $3 million in biennial capital funding from the state was received each year. The State Parks department had already concluded that it could not operate the park in a financially sustainable manner, nor did it have the funds to revitalize the property. So, a new partner was brought on board: the Fort Worden Public Development Authority.
In 2013, the Fort Worden PDA and Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission entered into a 50-year master lease, under which the PDA would serve as landlord and operator of The Campus area. The area also includes 73 historic buildings which are home to a variety of classrooms, performance halls, a theater and more than 56,000 square feet of meeting facilities. Ultimately, the goal of the partnership between the PDA and Parks and Recreation Commission is to sustain and provide capital improvements to the Park while promoting Fort Worden as a cultural destination in the Puget Sound.
“Increasing visitation to Fort Worden — as well as increasing capacity for new programming —will not only increase revenues to the Fort’s creativity community, which are then reinvested into the rehabilitation and maintenance of the property,” said Claflin. “Revenues also have an economic “trickle down” effect on local commerce as visitors seek out distinct, local products and experiences, and grow the area’s reputation as a national destination for arts, culture and education.”
This phase of redevelopment will focus on “Makers Square,” located within the 90-acre Campus Area, and includes buildings 305, 308 and 324. The buildings, along with six others, is just one of several areas that will be rehabilitated over the course of the coming years. Building 305 will anchor the revitalization; the building, which was used as a State Parks maintenance facility through 2018, was originally constructed in 1905. The three-story building totals 18,620 square feet and is anticipated to be an arts and education facility. In 2015, the PDA secured $3 million for the building’s renovation.
“One of the first facilities to be constructed at Fort Worden, Building 305 was completed in April 1904 and designated as the post’s Quartermaster office and storehouse,” said Claflin. “Building 305 served as the central hub of activity at Fort Worden and supported operations critical to the post and its garrison. The complementary facilities constructed around it formed Fort Worden’s administrative complex.”
Along with buildings 308 and 324, will provide 50,000 square feet of programmatic space in Makers Square, including galleries, studios and artist’s workspaces.
“When renovated and repurposed as flexible classrooms, artist studios, galleries and workspaces, Buildings 305, 308 and 324 will create opportunities for new, free and fee-based, residential and non-residential programming at the Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center,” added Claflin. “Makers Square promises to transform Fort Worden into a 21st Century showcase for creative community building and placemaking. It will serve a year-round community of aspiring and master artists, craftsmen, makers and innovators to create, collaborate, and learn.”
In January, the Fort Worden PDA, along with Signal Architecture and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, released a public invitation for general contractor bids. Now, the PDA is working to decide between two local bidders, including Clark Construction, who was offered the contract as the lowest, responsible bidder, in May of this year.
“The PDA is looking for someone that is engaged in community and ensuring long-term economic viability beyond just the “hard bid” job,” explained Claflin. “The successful low bidder has been a perfect partner up to this point – fully engaged, thoughtful, value oriented and an open book related to the project budget and communication.”
According to public documents, the project is expected come in at around $13 million, of which $10.8 million had been raised as of April this year. Additional fundraising efforts are currently underway, but in the meantime, Clark Construction is working to prep the site for construction, kicking off the revitalization of one of the region’s largest historic landmarks.