PORT ORCHARD — Steve Rice, the principal partner at architectural design firm Rice Fergus Miller, cautioned city council members last week that designing properties is a “messy” process. And that’s the case, he said, with the early stages of the design process for the downtown South Kitsap Community Events Center, which he and his team are in the midst of tackling.
Rice introduced design concepts at the Port Orchard City Council meeting May 25, which he said are expected to come to a final conclusion by the end of the year when property for the site is fully acquired. The Port Orchard center is to sit at the current location of Kitsap Bank’s headquarters building on Bay Street in the downtown sector of the city, promising a sweeping view of Sinclair Inlet when finally completed.
The design team also earlier shared its initial plans the night before with members of the Kitsap Public Facilities District, which has committed $12 million to build the civic project.
Mayor Rob Putaansuu, who preceded the architectural firm’s presentation with a timeline of the project, indicated that it could take up to five years for it to be built and open its doors to the public. Kitsap Bank and Kitsap Regional Library, which intends to relocate its Port Orchard branch to the 24,000-square-foot building, are key project partners with the city.
In addition to providing space for the library, plans call for the community events center to have a layout in which tenants can take advantage of the exterior site and its access to the shoreline. Rice said a key component of the early design is a long, narrow footprint offering versatility to tenants who will rent the space for myriad functions. It will provide users a banquet hall and meeting rooms, one of which could provide the city government with an option to conduct City Council meetings there. The City of Port Orchard is considering transforming its City Council chambers, which sits empty for all but a few hours each week, into needed office space.
“We’ve been really careful not to oversize the building,” Rice said, who directed his team to provide square footage flexible enough to meet the varied needs of the Columbia Hospitality caterers and the library system.
“This building needs to appeal to a lot of people a lot of the time. [If the space] does just one thing, it won’t be as successful.”
Also a standout element of the initial design is the inclusion of a “front porch” at each side of the building: one facing Bay Street and the other looking out over Puget Sound. Rich told council members this element would complement the site’s water views and incorporate an outdoor “urban forest” esthetic for outdoor events and festivals.
Rice said downtown Port Orchard along Bay Street relates well to its cluster of business buildings but “doesn’t have a very close relationship with the waterfront.” He said his team has engaged with a landscape architect and a shoreline specialist to best use the property site in its design plans.
Other notable features of the early concept design include what the design firm terms as an “oculus” that would be incorporated into plans so that light shining in would be shared between the first and second floors of the building. Outside, a covered picnic shelter on wheels could be shifted to various outdoor spaces via a rail system. Also included are plans for a fire pit, an atrium space inside connected with the oculus, and an outdoor movie screen that could be viewed by boaters and kayakers overlooking the site.
While the early designs were met with general approval by most council members, Cindy Lucarelli couldn’t conceal her disappointment with the concept plans.
“I can’t pretend that I like this, I’m sorry to say,” the councilwoman told the design team. “I see the interior as something that’s working well — the exterior is what’s not working well.
“That aqua color with the brown — what comes to mind is Howard Johnson’s [a ’50s-style restaurant and lodging design]. I may be the only one, but I really need to be honest with you. This is a huge disappointment to me. I’m not sure I would want to have my event in this place.”
Lucarelli said she was hoping for better use of natural materials. “I’m not sure of the oculus. I think it looks a little out of place on that tapered roof. … it doesn’t feel like our town.”
She referenced a similar facility in Kingston as offering attributes more in line with her expectations.
“When I saw their facility the first time, I was in awe — the windows, the wood, the light … it’s so beautiful. This [design] doesn’t seem like that.”
Putaansuu reminded, however, that the designs put forward by the Rice Fergus Miller team were only conceptual.
Rice concurred. “It’s early. As I said, [design work] is messy and we’ll keep [revising it].” The architect said, however, that he believes the eventual community events center design for Port Orchard will provide as much light as Kingston’s — or more. He said the exterior-facing materials haven’t been selected yet and are open for consideration at this phase of development.
“Architecture is a very subjective medium,” Rice said. “Color is just one aspect of that. We try to take all the comments [into consideration] and do the best that we can.”
Councilmember Jay Rosapepe asked Rice if any consideration would be given to incorporating LEED, or ecological standards, into the design. The team leader said that while emphasizing LEED elements can be somewhat onerous and involved in the design process, it is being evaluated by designers.
The Kitsap Public Facilities District committed $12 million in funding for the project after the board selected the project as its top priority effort in 2019. Rice Fergus Miller received a $400,000 preliminary design contract from KPFD to create layout concepts for the community events center.