Area will occupy current site of Arrowleaf Bistro restaurant
By Don Nelson
A new, privately financed downtown park with access to the Chewuch River will offer an open-space alternative to boardwalk strolling in Winthrop sometime next year.
At its meeting last week, the Winthrop Town Council approved a proposal by Jim and Gaye Pigott, owners of the Moccasin Lake Ranch, to pay for the park’s construction on the site now occupied by the Arrowleaf Bistro restaurant. The restaurant building will be moved or demolished.
The property will be purchased from owners Kyrie and Kathleen Jardin, who also own the adjacent Purple Sage building where they operate Central Reservations, a lodging reservation service.
In a memo to the council, Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said the Pigotts plan to develop a park that creates a connection between the existing boardwalk and the proposed Riverwalk path along the Chewuch River in downtown Winthrop. After the park is complete, the Pigotts will donate it to the town, which will then take over its maintenance.
Arrowleaf Bistro will remain on the 73-feet-wide site until next spring, when it will move to a new building under construction at the intersection of Highway 20 and White Avenue.
The Pigotts commissioned noted landscape architect Grant Jones to come up with a preliminary sketch of the park’s design. If the town signs on, Culp said, Jones will finish the final design.
The preliminary design includes benches, trees, other plantings, plank walkways, a rockery border and a gravel path to the river.
“I want to emphasize what an exciting opportunity this is for the town,” Culp said in her memo to the council. “These types of parks are the stuff of a planner’s dream! Open spaces with benches and natural landscaping within downtown offer the perfect balance of commercial activity and a place to rest and enjoy.”
Culp said the park will help answer one persistent question about the proposed Riverwalk: how will it connect with downtown activities, principally along Riverside Avenue?
“This park will provide a fantastic connection between the boardwalk and Riverwalk,” Culp wrote in her memo.
Not everyone in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting was as immediately enthusiastic about or ready to endorse the park idea. Kristen Smith, marketing director for the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, asked the council to consider allowing more public comment about the idea before approving it. She said it might be helpful for the council to hear from residents and other downtown business owners.
Smith said the proposed park could break up the continuity of Winthrop’s downtown business core, and noted that there are three other park areas in the town. And, she said, Winthrop visitors are more interested in experiencing the town’s western ambiance than visiting a park.
Removing any business from downtown, especially a restaurant, diminishes the visitor amenities the town offers, Smith said.
Kathleen Jardin told the council that if the park plan were not approved, what is now the Arrowleaf Bistro building will not be used as a restaurant or retail space but rather as headquarters for Central Reservations, and might including overnight lodging.
Kyrie Jardin said that he sees value in open space. “We thought it would be nice to have sky and grass and place for people to sit,” he said.
Culp cited studies that she said show “quantifiable returns on investment” from downtown parks in other areas, and that the proposed park could have a positive economic benefit.
Dave Thomsen, owner of Coldwell Banker Winthrop Realty who was representing the Pigotts at the meeting, told the council that the park would remedy a downtown failing: being cut off from riverfront access.
Thomsen said that the Pigotts, who have had the Moccasin Valley Ranch in their family for more than 50 years, “have a great love for the Methow” and see the park as an opportunity to do something for the community. The Pigotts intend to dedicate the park to Gaye Pigott’s father, Jon Titcomb, who bought the ranch in 1961. “That opened the door for Gaye and Jim to come here,” Thomsen said.
The Pigotts’ purchase of the park was contingent on the council’s endorsement and the town’s agreement to maintain the park, Thomsen said. “They don’t want to be involved in an controversy,” he said.
“It’s a nice park … I think it would do the Town of Winthrop proud,” Thomsen said.
Council member Mike Strulic said that “we need places for people to hang out … this is a great spot for access.”
Council member Gaile Bryant-Cannon said it’s likely that a park could “serve many more people” than a commercial building. Council member Anne Acheson called it “an amazing opportunity.”
Sandy Mackie, a local attorney representing the Pigotts, told the council that riverfront access is an element of the town’s shoreline master plan. “These are always value-added to the community,” he said. “You have a once-in-a-lifetime gift. Take advantage of it.”
Council member Rick Northcott added a personal note: His great-aunt used to own and live in what is now the Arrowleaf Bistro, and he remembers looking at the river from the back porch when he was a youngster.
Northcott said he acknowledged Smith’s concerns, but added that he didn’t think the issue needed a public hearing. Mayor Sue Langdalen agreed. The council approved the plan unanimously.
Reached last week, Jim Pigott said that architect Grant Jones has done design work at Moccasin Lake Ranch and at the North Village home sites in Winthrop, which the Pigotts developed.
Pigott said the idea for a downtown park first emerged from conversations with planner John Hayes, who has been involved with many local projects. Hayes, who was briefing Pigott on the progress of Riverwalk, suggested that the Arrowleaf Bistro site would be a good spot for a park, Pigott said. “It occurred to me that it would be something I’d like to do,” he said.
Pigott said that he and his wife would like to honor Jon Titcomb because “he’s the reason we’re in the valley.”
“We thought it would reflect his [Titcomb’s] interests in outdoor conservation,” Pigott said.
Details of the proposal grew out of discussions with Culp, Pigott said. Interestingly, he said he hasn’t met the property’s owners, the Jardins.
Told of Kristen Smith’s remarks, Pigott said “that’s appropriate … to consider the retail impact.”
But Pigott said parks in a downtown setting can be tourism magnets as well, and the Arrowleaf Bistro site is well-situated for that purpose.
“It looked like a win-win situation,” Pigott said.