Amid racks full of pamphlets and maps in the visitors cabin located just off State Route 16 at the Sedgwick Avenue exit, volunteer Howard Stage, 81, passes the time reading a newspaper and chatting with his friend Tom Hokanson, 71.
During the winter months, the South Kitsap resident doesn’t see many people pass through the center on his shifts, especially this Thursday with the cold weather, rain and strong winds.
“Weather like this, you don’t have many,” he said. “But in nice weather you average about 100 per week.”
According to the sign-in sheets Stage looked at, last March the center saw 400 visitors.
But the future of the cabin, built through cash and material donations from local businesses, sits in limbo as its governing agency, the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau, seeks a buyer for the 10-year-old facility.
The bureau’s executive director, Grant Griffin, explained the industry nationwide is moving away from the small, roadside visitors center on the whole, explaining that they are “concentrating on what our business is, which is growing the economy through tourism.”
Griffin hoped the city of Port Orchard might step up and take the reigns of the operation, but after a Tuesday night study session, the mayor and council are no longer considering the opportunity.
Mayor Lary Coppola cited the cost of buying and moving the facility as problematic.
“If we had something we specifically would want to do with it, it might make sense,” he said.
Councilman John Clauson agreed, noting that the building is being sold for around $10,000, and it would cost at least that much if it needed to be moved.
It sits on the Days Inn property next to SR-16.
“The ground that it sits on doesn’t have any kind of a long-term agreement. The cost of moving it is really up in the air,” he said, “There were just so many open-ended issues that if the (Visitor and Convention Bureau) has any other interested parties, maybe that’s what they should do.”
But to Stage, the discussion is being held by the wrong people. The bureau owns the facility, but Stage believes it’s owned by the businesses and volunteers who paid for and donated materials for its construction.
“It would be a shame to lose the building because of all the money invested,” he said.
Plus the service he provides, directing tourists staying at the hotel to various parks in the area. His favorite is the Manchester State Park, which includes a number of World War II-era structures.
Stage noted the overall cost of maintenance is low. There are no bathrooms or plumbing, the staff is entirely voluntary, leaving electricity and phone bills.
But with the city out of the picture, Griffin will have to seek another buyer, who may or may not want to maintain the building’s current function.