Storefront Studio project wraps up with lots of ideas for Vashon

More than a dozen University of Washington students presented their visions for a revitalized Vashon Friday night, offering up proposals to restore historic structures, spruce up the town and provide visitors with a road map to the Island.

The 13 UW students and their professor Jim Nicholls walked through each of the nearly 20 projects before a group of Islanders gathered at the Land Trust Building, describing a process of getting to know the Island better with each subsequent trip and working collaboratively to develop what Nicholls called “architecture in the public interest.”

Two of the students even flew over Vashon in a helicopter so as to get a birds-eye view of the Island.

The result of what’s called Storefront Studio, a collaboration between the UW’s College of Built Environments and King County, is now hanging at The Hardware Store Restaurant for the month of June — a display that Nicholls hopes will inspire the Vashon Chamber of Commerce, shop owners, property owners and citizen activists to take some initiative and seek some grants. A book of the students’ work will also be published.

“It doesn’t take much,” he said of some of the projects.

Noting that several people in the audience seemed excited about various proposals, he added, “I’m hoping that people will champion an idea.”

Julie Koler, the county’s historic preservation officer who was also at Friday’s gathering, said a low-interest loan fund will likely soon be in place to help Vashon and other parts of King County revitalize their communities.

“We’re really committed to realizing as many of these projects as we can,” she said.

The projects ran the gamut from remarkably ambitious to modest and straightforward. One proposal that seemed to garner interest at Friday night’s gathering, for instance, was the creation of artistic or fanciful bike racks in town.

“We noticed that there weren’t many bike-locking stations,” said Lisa Healy, one of the students. “And those that do exist are very utilitarian.”

“This is something you could do tomorrow,” Nicholls chimed in. “You don’t need a lot of money. You don’t need anyone’s permission.”

Another student, Covy Vardy, suggested a modification of Dick Sontgerath’s ambitious plans to redevelop K2. His ideas are great, Vardy said, as Sontgerath sat in the audience, smiling. “It just feels so big and overwhelming,” he added.

Vardy suggested that the building be cut in half and that the site be “transformed into more of a campus.” The old hallways, he added, “could become outdoor rows, which would be awesome.”

One of the most ambitious proposals entailed dredging the isthmus between Maury and Vashon islands, enabling kayakers to pass from Tramp Harbor into Quartermaster Harbor and allowing Quartermaster to more fully flush and experience tidal action. And another project centered on the old Portage Store, where a student suggested the installation of a restaurant.

“It’s an incredible waterfront property,” Nicholls said.

At least one project, however, didn’t make the final cut. County officials had asked the students to look at VAA’s proposed performing arts center and try to determine a way to make it fit in more fully with the historic neighborhood at Center — so one of Nicholls’ students suggested modifying the front of the building, adding a porch to the towering, glass-fronted entrance.

But at an open house at Movie Magic last month, Nicholls said, he heard from VAA’s Molly Reed and Angela Luechtefeld that the design was too far along to incorporate changes of such magnitude and that the design team was intentionally seeking a more modern statement. So he decided to nix it, he said.

“We were hoping to do something that was helpful. We had a fresh set of eyes, and we knew the community wasn’t particularly happy with how the building fit at the corner … so we kind of naively thought we could help out,” Nicholls said.

But he now believes he and his team acted prematurely and should have brought VAA “into the conversation sooner.” He opted to cut the project from the collection on his volition, he added. “I didn’t want a lot of good ideas eclipsed by one contentious one,” he said.

The result of the students’ work, he added, is an interesting collection of proposals that he believes already has strong community support.

“They all have a basis in trying to support Vashon. None are crazy, out-there ideas based on a whim or fancy that a student had … All came from the community,” he said.

Christie True, director of the county’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, said she hopes some of the ideas take off. “The whole point of this was to pique people’s interest and get their imagination going,” she said.


The Storefront Studio project will be on display at The Hardware Store Restaurant through June. To obtain more information or to get a copy of the students’ book, contact Jim Nicholls at


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