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Chamber to move its office to Vashon town

The Vashon Chamber of Commerce plans to leave Courthouse Square and lease an office in town — a move, chamber officials say, that will enable it to better serve both visitors and chamber members.

At its board meeting on Wednesday, chamber officials said the organization will lease the office formerly occupied by The Brown Agency at Vashon Village, across the street from the Vashon Library. The Brown Agency is now located at the former site of Wendy's Weather'd Wear in Vashon Village.

The organization expects to save some money with the move; the rent is a bit lower at the new site, said chamber president Linda Bianchi. But most important is that the new location puts the chamber in town, she said, where it can have a greater presence and provide a drop-in center for visitors who have questions about the Island.

The chamber plans to have a sign near the curb at Vashon Village noting its location within the small office park, she said. Chamber officials hope to keep the office open Tuesday through Saturday, staffed in part by volunteers. It will move into the new location Feb. 1.

"The number one goal is to get the chamber back up town, where we have more visibility," she said in an interview. "We want a more visible location."

The chamber used to be located in Vashon town — first in the brick storefront that houses Winterbrook Realty and Vashon IT and later at Parker Plaza. It moved to Courthouse Square in 2004, when Tom Bangasser, who developed the site, was president of the chamber.

Courthouse Square is currently owned by CHS Vashon, Inc., a wholly owned affiliate of Vashon College, which Bangasser helped to found.

Bangasser, who attends chamber board meetings and often spars with the board, said the move doesn't hurt the building's bottom line or particularly trouble him.

"I've managed commercial real estate for 40 years. And tenants come and go," he said.

But he said he thinks the chamber is making a mistake by moving, since the current office includes many amenities, including free wireless, utilities and access to a large room for board and general membership meetings. What's more, he said, his research when he was president of the board showed that most visitors either call or e-mail the chamber if they have questions.

"We determined that for that random stopping-by, a street presence is very expensive," he said.

The chamber, he said, could easily develop some kiosks that provide information to visitors, something the organization, he added, has been talking about for four years.

"If we can't build a kiosk after four years, why are we spending all this money trying to promote tourism?" Bangasser asked.

The chamber recently hired Blonde Ambition, a local marketing firm, to develop a plan for attracting more tourists to Vashon; it's paid the firm $7,000 for its work thus far.

Bianchi, however, said the chamber's move to Vashon Village will enable it to develop the gazebo at the entrance to the office park as a place to house visitor information. The gazebo will need to be remodeled so that it can be locked at night, she said.

The move, she added, will likely appeal to the business community as well as visitors.

"Businesses didn't like us located outside of the town core," she said. "We're hoping to gain some of those members back."

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