As the Fourth of July holiday weekend crowds bustled through the Anacortes ferry terminal, the Washington State Department of Transportation continued to look at ways to improve the small and deteriorating building.
The parking lots at the Anacortes terminal filled almost to capacity as drivers parked their cars and walked onto the ferries to get to the islands. The unexpected need for repairs on the M/V Elwha on Saturday created delays for other boats and missed reservations, leaving passengers waiting in and near the aging terminal building.
There is a cafe and small gift shop in the terminal, but there is nowhere else to go during the wait. Two nearby buildings that used to serve as restaurants for both locals and ferry passengers have sat empty for years.
During the weekend, about 112,500 people traveled on ferries to and from Anacortes. That’s up from 111,000 last year.
With the busy holiday over, Washington State Ferries is seeking input on prospects for the Anacortes terminal and its 35-acre site. Any action will take some time.
The 2040 Long Range Plan for Washington State Ferries doesn’t include terminal improvements until the 2025-2027 budget biennium, according to Hadley Rodero, a Ferries spokesperson.
Without that state money, the DOT is turning to other funding sources to speed the process. It is partnering with the Port of Anacortes and the City of Anacortes to find public-private partnerships.
The Port owns the property and leases it to the DOT, Rodero said. Any economic development in the area affects both the city and the port, so both were interested in providing feedback on the property’s future, she said.
A survey out now is gauging community interest in the property and asking what people want at the terminal site.
“Our efforts are purely exploratory at this point,” Rodero said.
That could mean commercial opportunities, like retail stores, lodging and food options. DOT is looking for businesses that might fit well on the site.
“There’s a lot you can do with that piece of property,” she said.
If a business were to lease a portion, for example, and set up a restaurant, that lease revenue would go toward improvements of the terminal and the site as a whole, Rodero said. Specific terms on how that income would come in would be negotiated later in the process, she said.
“We want to make good use of that site,” she said.
The site is a large one with room for other uses, she said. DOT will strive to make sure a balance is struck between those new businesses and income sources and the need for parking spaces and staging areas for cars waiting to load onto a ferry.
The ferry system is expecting to see a 30 percent growth in the next 20 years, if not more, Rodero said. That is being taken into consideration, as well.
About 500 people have responded to the survey so far, Rodero said. It should be open for at least another month or so, she said.
After all feedback is gathered, Washington State Ferries will release a report on its findings.
This private-public partnership funding model hasn’t been used within the Washington State Ferries system before, but is being used to fund other transportation projects, Rodero said.