Port Townsend, Washington

Washington | 2000 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 4/3/2000

Set against two mountain ranges and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Port Townsend is one of the finest examples of a Victorian seaport in the United States. This prospering town of 8,400 residents has a significant number of intact period buildings that were designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1976.

However, by the 1980s, the downtown historic district was experiencing a marked decline. The combined effects of regional malls, loss of population, and a declining economic base were reflected in boarded-up storefronts, abandoned Victorian-era buildings, and decaying public infrastructure.  The individuals behind the Main Street program, begun in 1985, recognized that the first task was to develop partnerships with other organizations and create a sense of community among business and property owners. 

Today, there is a 100 percent occupancy rate of the street-level retail spaces.  More than 90 percent of the properties downtown have undergone rehabilitation. The historic Waterman & Katz Building sat empty for 20 years until 1998. The million-dollar renovation now houses city offices, a college, and a Native American art gallery. More than $1 million have been invested in the Mount Baker Block Building – half of that invested in transforming the fourth floor into 10,000 square feet of office space to attract high-tech businesses.

As Port Townsend evolves, it has ever-increasing pride in the authenticity of its building stock and the revitalization of its historic district. The restored Rose Theatre, formerly a junk shop, again shows first-run films. Cruise ships now dock at a reconstructed Union Wharf. And, the planned, $4 million downtown Northwest Maritime Center hopes to preserve one of the last pieces of undeveloped shoreline in Puget Sound.  

Revitalization efforts have snowballed and brought visible improvements since 1985. The downtown has regained its prominence as the social center of the community. Most of the major community events are held in the heart of the commercial district.  More than 100 buildings have been restored or renovated and new projects are underway. 
Retail sales tax has increased more than 100 percent between 1984 and 1998. Through targeted tourism marketing, hotel/motel tax revenue has increased significantly in the past three years.  Between 1990 and 1999, there has been a net gain of 237 jobs!  Downtown is Port Townsend’s largest employer with more than 900 people working there. There is a healthy retail mix and you can dine in one of 23 restaurants, stay in a historic bed & breakfast, take a college course, rent a kayak, listen to great jazz, buy an antique car, or watch for eagles flying overhead – all within walking distance of downtown.

Port Townsend’s Victorian heritage is real; it is not a theme park. The Main Street program fosters a sense of stewardship in the historic districts, encourages economic vitality, and protects Port Townsend’s small town quality of life.