Harbor Commissioners Defend Need for New Building

     Reactions are mixed when it comes to building a new Harbormaster’s office on the Homer Spit. Concerns mostly stem from the overall cost of building and constructing the new facility.

     Just shy of $2.3 million: That’s the current cost estimate for design and construction of the new office. The city received a legislative grant totaling $1.5 million to cover the majority of costs for design and construction of the new facility. As part of the deal, the city had to fork over $500,000 to show they were invested in the idea. That portion will come from the port and harbor reserve fund. 

     But there’s still that remaining $300,000. The Port and Harbor Building Task Force set its sights on asking the city council for that additional money. That would potentially come from the general fund reserve. 

     And that’s where the plan hit a snag. City Council Member Gus Van Dyke doesn’t like that idea. He mentioned during Monday night’s committee of the whole meeting that some cost-savings cuts could still be made to the facility like squaring up the building instead of leaving a rounded front.

     “The construction cost to build something like that is astronomical compared to a nice, square unit that is fully glassed,” he said.

     Those who have been working on the design of the building have said the rounded front is a nice touch because it will be easier to view the entire harbor. Van Dyke also had concerns with the fact there’s a conference room included in the design plans. 

     “Based on $2.9 million, that’s almost $500 a square foot, and this thing is 375 square feet. That’s $179,000 for a conference room that’s only going to be used… once a month,” he said.

     Van Dyke said he’d prefer to see the “multipurpose break room” be used as advertised.

     “It can be used for a conference room. It can be used for a break room. It can be used for your lunch room. It can be used for a lot of different things with minimal redesign,” he said.

     But others pointed out a multipurpose room wouldn’t fit the needs for running a meeting. There needs to be equipment installed for speakers and computers available for things like PowerPoint presentations. During the city council’s regular meeting, Port and Harbor Commissioner Steve Zimmerman pointed out it’s time for the city to support the harbor a bit more than it does currently. 

     “The downtown City Hall could give us a little money out there since money always seems to be in a one way direction this way. The city has gotten, in 2013, $143,000 collected in sales tax by the port and harbor enterprise fund. We don’t see any of that. I was told that pays for fire and police, and I’m sure it does. Does it cost $143,000 for the share that the port and harbor gets from fire and police? I don’t know,” Zimmerman said. “There’s also a lot more collected from the businesses that are on the Spit that wouldn’t be on the Spit if the harbor wasn’t there.”

     He said it’s a small price to pay for such a big economic engine for the town. Zimmerman wasn’t alone with that thought.

     “Ditto, ditto, ditto on Steve,” Cathy Ulmer said. She’s port and harbor commission chair. “I agree. The city should pony up a grant for the building on the Spit that’s essentially a city building.”

     Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins has said the current office where he and his staff work is just too small and too outdated for the work they do. Though City Manager Walt Wrede said there is still time to refine the plans and hopefully not have to use that additional $300,000 loan. The city council will discuss the options during its next meeting Feb. 10.