After four years of pursuit, Kvichak Marine has successfully landed what co-owner Brian Thomas cautiously calls a "great contract."
With the assistance of the much-larger, Wisconsin-based Marinette Marine, Kvichak will design and build 250 U.S. Coast Guard RBMs (response boat-medium) over the next 10 years.
Tucked in the west corner of Fremont, near where Leary Way meets North 36th Street, the small industrial company sees the "recognition by the Coast Guard that we have the best product out there."
Over the next 10 months, Kvichak will design the boats, and in 2007, it expects to construct the first eight in Fremont. From there Kvichak and Marinette will build every other boat, turning out one every three weeks.
"We expect to add 100 people to the payroll," Brian admitted, "and we're thinking of a second plant. We're looking for the best place."
Brian explained that may be in Seattle or farther north, outside the city.
Brian said the city and the Office of Economic Development (OED) have been very supportive and enthusiastic about the contract, "but we haven't asked them for any heavy lifting yet."
To stay in the area Kvichak might need help from the city but, then again, they may not be able to find a workable space here no matter what OED can do.
At the same time Kvichak, gears up for an ambitious opportunity, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce turned to the east side of the neighborhood, to Stone Way North, to help industrial businesses there retain the most important of city help: roads.
Recently proposed changes may cripple businesses along Stone Way.
I spoke with pedestrian-safety engineer Megan Hoyt, with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), about why she recently resurrected a plan to narrow Stone down to one lane each way with a middle turn lane.
Fremont planners fought - and thought they defeated - a similar idea during neighborhood planning several years ago. Megan explained that two forces led to her recommending a "road diet" for Stone.
In 2002, the city identified several "unattractive locations" where crosswalks fail, and Stone Way made that list.
The repaving of Stone Way, from North 34th to 45th streets, was "an additive," according to SDOT project manager Jessica Murphy, on the 45th Street repaving project.
When they cut costs, Stone Way fell off that project, but Jessica assured that repaving of Stone will go for bid soon, though she couldn't say when specifically: "I don't have a great answer for that."
It won't be this year, but it will stay at the top of the priorities list, she said.
Repaving Stone Way could be the catalyst for its diet.
"It happens to a whole lot of streets," Megan assured.
Both Greenwood and Eighth Avenue Northwest have narrowed in the interests of pedestrian safety. "We would not have suggested it if we didn't think it could work," she said.
Unlike Eighth Northwest, Stone would have a turning lane down the center, but no median. "We're not looking at that right now. It's nothing we're proposing," she explained.
Megan mentioned other amenities: "We'll be able to widen the lanes" and add bike lanes. Megan also lauded the potential of fewer vehicular accidents, since research says cars don't rush to turn left from a center turning lane. "We've vetted this through."
Somehow, though, access gets lost in the research. Safe roads are important, but what is our priority for getting somewhere?
Most drivers, and certainly truck drivers, need quick, direct routes with few hassles.
Pedestrians, planted medians and bikes provide pretty pictures, but where are the roads that take us where we need to be?
"It's different priorities - that's clear," Brian said, diplomatically, from his perspective as an industrial business owner.
While he admits he's "not up to speed on all the issues," his opinion is clear: "'What a bad idea!' I think, any time we are going to lose road capacity. The North End needs all the capacity it can get."
He's concerned about pedestrians and bicycles, but wonders why traffic enforcement, more officers and other improvements don't get considered alongside narrowing roads and impeding access.
Fremont has another "unattractive location" on the city list of crosswalks, on the west side. Ideally, Megan said, the city will finish fixing the remaining crossings by 2007, but she hasn't had time yet to research the crosswalk that spans 36th Street, another two-lane roadway, at Greenwood Avenue North.
"We've definitely just started the public process," Megan explained about Stone Way. She expects a public meeting to be scheduled for early fall.
Concerned citizens from Wallingford and Fremont haven't waited and have already met to seek solutions that, hopefully, work for all - residents, bike riders, pedestrians and business.
Kirby Lindsay drives, walks and bikes, but her heart never leaves Fremont. She invites your comments at fremont@ oz.net.