New vision: Auto Row, meet ‘College Town’

Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern envisions thoroughfare as an extension of Olympic College community

POULSBO — Since the demise of the auto row, south Viking Avenue has had an identity crisis.

An eclectic mix of businesses, and some large chunks of vacant real estate, line the thoroughfare. If you were so inclined, you could get the car worked on, grab a bite to eat, buy stuff for the house, get a haircut, get a spray tan, get a tattoo, and have an afternoon cocktail, all within walking distance. (You can buy quilting materials, and go to church there, too.)

Walk up the hill and catch a movie. Walk toward the water and stroll County Road 59 Park.

City officials say Viking Avenue lacks cohesiveness, that it’s a place you drive to for a specific reason but don’t stay long.

To help Viking Avenue find its way, city planners sketched a streetscape with downstairs businesses and upstairs apartments, open space, public plazas, and incentives for interested developers. No one nibbled, city officials said.

Heck, the mayor even pitched the former Courtesy Ford site to Family Fun Center.

Turns out, Viking Avenue’s long-term success may lie in going to back to school.

Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern, who also chairs the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Economic Development District Board in Seattle, said Viking Avenue is in a good position to become an extension of the Olympic College community, with apartments and condos and businesses that would support off-campus student life.

Olympic College in Poulsbo — a 1.9-mile walk or drive from the corner of Viking Avenue and Finn Hill Road — is expanding, with four-year degrees in business, education, environment and human services offered through Western Washington University. WWU, which has branded itself locally as Western on the Peninsulas, also offers lectures and public presentations on various topics of public interest.

With more students will come the need for more housing — and businesses and services to support a college population.

Auto Row, meet “College Town.”

“Viking Avenue is a direct extension and access to College Marketplace,” Stern said Jan. 14. “It’s the single best corridor for that kind of housing and for supporting a nightlife economy and businesses that support that life.”

How do you lure a developer? One way, Stern said, is housing density bonuses — build according to the city’s vision, and get a break on the number of units you can build, as well as less stringent requirements on number of parking spaces.

The reason why no developer has nibbled on earlier incentives: What the city proposed was standalone, Stern said.

“There wasn’t a tie-in to a larger population and vision. ‘College Town’ might be a tipping point — [creating] a nucleus of activity and a nightlife economy that could provide the population for that business model. … It would further diversify our economy and it would fit into the character of our town.”

The council’s Economic Development Committee last week discussed including the “college corridor” concept in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan update.

And on Jan. 16, Stern was expected to meet in Poulsbo with professors and officers of Western Washington University from the local campus and from Bellingham.

“It’s really a tour of the Marine Science Center and its relationship potentially to supporting environmental policy and environmental sciences [studies for] the four-year baccalaureate degree at the Poulsbo campus,” Stern wrote in an email to the Herald.

“While they are here, they also want to understand the attitude and perspective of Poulsbo — and future relationship — to any university plans for the Peninsulas program.”


Look at Viking Avenue as a whole, and it’s a happening place.

At Viking Way and Highway 305, site preparation is being done for Sonic Drive-In, and Stern predicts site prep could begin this year on the “walkable” neighborhood proposed by Edward Rose & Son. Kitsap Transit proposes building a park-and-ride station across the street from Sonic.

Between Highway 305 and Lindvig Way, Viking Avenue is a pretty, tree-lined thoroughfare with random homes from the 1930s, 1940s and ’50s, with entrances to Fish Park, the estuary and its wildlife. Services include a bank, grocery, and restaurants. Cenex, where you can buy chicks, hay and feed, is a reminder of the rural heritage of the immediate area.

On Viking Avenue south of Lindvig Way, the owner of American Building & Roofing — which has stores in seven cities, including Poulsbo — is purchasing the old Courtesy Ford site. The owner’s son, company president Mark Morgan, said the Viking Avenue store may relocate there but plans for the site’s use have not been finalized.

Kitsap Transit proposes building a bus station on vacant land in front of James Lumber.

The now-defunct Golden Homes has vacated 19647 Viking Ave., next to North Kitsap Fishline, making available a large parcel ripe for improvement. The site is being cleared of detritus from Golden Homes, utilities are installed, and it has plenty of room for parking, ingress and egress. (The owner, Chad Winger, did not return messages left for him by phone and with one of his business tenants on the property.)

In the 2000s, the city of Poulsbo used Stimulus Act money to improve the street from Highway 305 to the southern city limits. In 2009, when the city began those improvements, the intersection of Viking and Finn Hill/Lindvig Way accommodated approximately 24,000 cars a day, according to the city at the time.


At one time, long before the auto row days, south Viking Avenue was part of a thriving agricultural area. Reminders of that era remain: A portion of old road, County Road 59, which is now a walking trail on the west side of Liberty Bay; the restored Martinson Cabin, which was moved to Viking and Lindvig from Bond and Stottlemeyer roads; and the old Nelson Family Farmhouse at Nelson Park.

Walk a block toward the water or up the hill and you’ll find tree-lined neighborhoods of apartments, condominiums and houses. Closer to the southern city limits, there’s Johnson Creek, a salmon-bearing stream that reportedly still attracts bears.

Stern believes Viking Avenue offers a lot more than what meets the eye.

“The most [immediately] helpful thing would be for Regal Cinemas to build a marquee on Viking Avenue, with the movies lit up that are playing,” Stern said. “Unless you’re a local, it’s one of the best-kept secrets in town. The mayor agreed to contact Regal Cinemas and I hope she follows through,” he said, noting that the leasing of a street-side spot for the sign will generate some rental income for the property’s owner.

Mayor Erickson thinks Viking Avenue is leaning toward light-industrial, and views the thoroughfare as the place to go when you need to get something done.

“It’s where you buy tires, get your car fixed, go to the feed store, get what you need to maintain your home,” she said. “That’s the direction it’s continuing to grow. When the hill behind it gets developed, then we’ll see other residential services emerge, other amenities.”

Ed Domer of MD Electrical, a business tenant on the Winger property and longtime Viking Avenue business, believes the thoroughfare is best suited for light-industrial businesses like his and others.

But he’s looking forward to seeing what the future brings.

“You have a lot of vacant real estate here,” he said.

*      *      *


A look at the City of Poulsbo’s share of sales tax revenue generated on Viking Avenue over a five-year period.

2013: $272,198
2012: $258,973
2011: $275,853
2010: $309,166
2009: $315,734