By Ian Ferguson
The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce has an ambitious plan to rebrand the bayside community over the next few years, and it all starts with some big changes in 2015.
At a special presentation at CJ’s Beach House restaurant on September 24, chamber director Jeff Carrington laid out his business plan to improve community participation starting in 2015.
Carrington is anticipating a large influx of money into the community over the next three years, including funds dedicated to developing urban growth areas and shoreline restoration and infrastructure grants that were tabled when Governor Jay Inslee first took office.
Additionally, planning for the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project, which will install a berm and pedestrian pathway along the shore of the bay, is underway and construction is expected to begin in 2016.
One of the immediate steps the chamber is taking is implementing a new VIP Social Membership card for chamber members. For a $50 fee, members will receive a one-year membership card. Each card comes pre-loaded with $23 towards admission to Birch Bay Waterslides, $20 towards a rental at Paddle and Pedal Adventures and $12 off admission to Miniature World. Additionally, members can use their cards for 10 percent off meals at participating Birch Bay restaurants. Carrington said nearly every restaurant has signed on for the program, and he will be meeting with remaining restaurants in the next few weeks. He hopes to expand the discount program to area service and retail companies. Iain Buchanan of Birch Bay Waterslides has offered to open the slides for one night next summer to host an exclusive party for VIP members.
Early sales for the cards have already begun, with a full roll out scheduled for this November. Eleven memberships have already been purchased, and realtors with Windermere Realty have begun offering free membership cards to clients who buy houses or condos in the area.
In 2013, the chamber brought in approximately $14,000 in membership fees from approximately 130 members, most of which were local businesses. Carrington hopes the VIP Social Membership cards will bring in between $15,000 and $25,000 every year, which will go towards supporting the chamber and marketing the new events the chamber is planning.
The chamber will be seeking tourism grants from the state to support local festivals, and intends to introduce new events while revamping some established ones to make them more attractive to grant committees.
The first new festival is the Roll Back Weekend, tentatively scheduled for July 25 and 26, 2015. The festival is designed to be a throwback to the days of classic rock and roll, vintage cars and cruising Birch Bay Drive. Birch Bay will play host to three vintage car shows and local restaurants will embrace a 1950s and ’60s theme. Carrington is also hoping to attract the All-American Soapbox Derby for the weekend.
“We’ve talked to them, and they’re interested in doing a function right here in Birch Bay,” he said. “There are only two other cities [Poulsbo and Stanwood] that they’ve approved in our state. How cool would it be if the winner here gets to go on to nationals?”
The new Water Sports Weekend on August 8 and 9 will promote Birch Bay as a destination for parasailing, skim boarding and waterskiing. In addition, Carrington has plans to refine some existing festivals already has in place. For example, he recommends scheduling Birch Bay Discovery Days in late August in conjunction with crabbing season.
“After the Fourth of July, people have a sort of parade hangover,” Carrington said. “Year after year, Discovery Days is plagued with logistical problems, from staging ground difficulties to weather issues to lack of parade participation. Rebranding it as a crab festival will give it an identity, and moving it to late summer will increase participation.”
It would be given a new name, Discovery Days Crab Fest, and would move from its usual mid-July date to August 29 and 30. Carrington wants to see a community crab boil, live music and fireworks over the bay.
The Birch Bay Sandcastle Competition would also receive an overhaul. Carrington hopes to spread the event over two days, and schedule it for early August to align with tides and weather patterns. A new element to the sandcastle competition would be a high school scholarship division. Judges would evaluate four teams of high school students from throughout the state and judge them on their ability to work as a team, the creativity of their sculpture and a theme that celebrates their school or community. Carrington is encouraging businesses in the community to sponsor the scholarships.
Carrington also wants to provide large cash prizes to encourage world-class sandcastle builders to attend the festival.
“The number one location for sandcastle building in the U.S. is Long Beach, Washington. In Canada, one of the best places is White Rock,” Carrington said. “We’re in between them, and we have a better staging ground and better sand. We can have a better contest than either of them. We just need to attract the talent.”
The chamber also plans to revamp smaller local festivals like the Birch Bay Music Festival and the Polar Bear Plunge, while introducing weekly concerts in Birch Bay State Park during the summer.
The chamber’s proposition has support from Birch Bay businesses and chamber members, but the plan still needs sponsorship and community volunteers in order to succeed, Carrington said. While he is confident that the approximately $50,000 of the initial grant money the chamber has applied for will come through, he’s also working to attract corporate sponsors to provide additional income, and hopes the community will step in to provide support.
“This is where they say the plan will fall down,” he said. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘People won’t come together and support this.’ I don’t believe that. I believe that if you ask people to support the community, they will come out and help.”
For more information or to volunteer for an event, call the Birch Bay Visitor Information Center at 360/371-5004.