Money flows from Port of South Whidbey

Gretchen Schlomann requests funding on behalf of the Whidbey Island Farm Tour from the Port of South Whidbey. The funds were granted for brochures with the map tour as part of the port’s economic development.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Gretchen Schlomann requests funding on behalf of the Whidbey Island Farm Tour from the Port of South Whidbey. The funds were granted for brochures with the map tour as part of the port’s economic development.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Lots of groups held out their hands toward the Port of South Whidbey commissioners Tuesday.

And every one of them left with a promised check for thousands of dollars to go toward economic development on South Whidbey Island.

“The goal holds true that this is a kickstart from the port, but hopefully it helps you become self sufficient,” said Curt Gordon, port president.

The five groups requested a combined $9,060 for promotions and events. The hope of the port and the groups — Whidbey Island Farm Tour, Celebrate America, Clinton Thursday Market, Clinton Progressive Association and Freeland Chamber of Commerce — is to draw visitors and their ever-desired money.

Funding will go toward a host of projects. The farm tour will spend its $1,000 port grant on a brochures.

Celebrate America needed $1,010 for portable toilets at its Independence Day fireworks festival because the public restrooms at Freeland Park are closed because of Island County cutbacks.

Promoting the Clinton Thursday Market with the aid of $3,250 was the aim of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce. A popular draw, the chamber pleaded its case for supporting the market which, chamber representatives hope, will in turn spark a business rush in Clinton. Businesses are closing or moving from Clinton, South Whidbey’s gateway to the mainland. And rather than let precious tourist dollars drive up Highway 525 and skip Clinton, the chamber saw the Thursday market give people reason to pause.

“We realized the most important thing is to get the word out,” said Carol Flax. “Clinton is kind of in bad straits right now.”

Advertising the Mayfest in Clinton was another concern to the tune of 800 port grant dollars. Clinton Progressive Association, which runs the Clinton Community Hall, uses Mayfest as its main fundraiser. Those dollars pay for the upkeep of the community hall, just off the highway. Further down the fundraising road, Clinton Progressive Association has its sights set on replacing the aged roof and furnace.

“It’s an older building and it needs repairs,” said Flax, who also represented Clinton Progressive Association.

Gordon clarified that the port district cannot fund capital expenses or maintenance, only economic development items that boost South Whidbey’s commerce. Port commissioners also encouraged money-seeking agencies to use its new application for funds forms and to track where patrons come from, which makes a better case for economic development grants.

“The more numbers we can get, the happier we are about giving these grants,” Gordon said.

Drawing customers farther north was the goal of the Greater Freeland Chamber of Commerce. Brochures on the Clinton-to-Mukilteo ferries, at businesses and visitor information centers can bring people to the nuts-and-bolts stores that Freeland offers, places like Payless Foods, Ace Hardware and Skagit Farmers Supply.

“All of our visitors, we share them,” said Leanne Finlay, a Greater Freeland Chamber board member.

The Freeland brochures are updated twice a year, and the port grant pays for that.

One group, Langley Main Street Association, was there to report on its successful venture with the port. The downtown group purchased an electric golf cart to transport visitors from the Langley Marina, down a steep hill from the shops and restaurants, into downtown and to the park-and-ride lots at Island Church of Whidbey and Langley United Methodist Church. The port reimbursed the association for $5,000 of the $10,000 golf cart.

“We’re going to try to use it as much as possible,” said Janet Ploof, director of Langley Main Street Association.

Port of South Whidbey leaders envision the golf cart as a useful tool in the future. Marina expansion in Langley could bring a lot more visitors, and parking will be at a premium down at the marina. Shuttling boaters and other visitors around town and to their cars will be an important step in drawing tourists, port and business leaders hope.

“Once they’re done shopping and they’ve bought a bunch of heavy stuff, we take them down to the marina,” Ploof said.

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