The Des Moines City Council held a Study Session on Thursday night, June 6, 2024 to discuss a variety of topics, including an update on the passenger ferry program.

The program, which boasted a tremendously successful pilot run in 2022, is poised for a major boost thanks to potential partnership with King County Metro.

The council also discussed possible names for the alleyway behind the theater, and heard about the latest in communications from the new Director of Communications.

Passenger Ferry Update

Peter Philips, a consultant working with Des Moines on the passenger ferry program for the last several years, gave Council a presentation on recent updates to the water taxi project. He said that after the successful passenger ferry run in 2022, Des Moines is poised for a strong partnership with King County Metro to develop a fully funded program serving the city in the coming years. 

During the 2022 season, 15,000 people utilized the ferry to get to and from Seattle, exceeding ridership expectations by 400%. Revenue also exceeded expectations, bringing in 250% more than planned. The popular program was attempted again in 2023, but the vessel the city was to use experienced catastrophic failure before it could get to Des Moines.

Despite the success of the 2022 pilot program, the ferry was costly to run and the city could not afford that expense every year. This is where King County Metro comes in. They are currently looking into potentially taking on the entirety of the cost of running the passenger ferry between Seattle and Des Moines, as a way to increase public transportation within South King County. The plan in question would not have a boat running for another 2 to 5 years, but it will not require any further financial investment from the city.

Philips mentioned that the city secured a million dollar grant for marina electrification. This will fund the creation of a charging station for both boats and cars at the marina. When an electric ferry is eventually running, the ferry could fast-charge at this station while passengers load and unload. This electrification will happen independent of the ferry program, and will be used to charge increasingly popular electric boats throughout Puget Sound. 

In addition to the electrification grant, the city received another $132,000 grant to conduct an economic impact survey on the effects of a permanent passenger ferry in Des Moines. While the impact of the pilot program seemed to be overwhelmingly positive, with increased business to restaurants and tourism, as well as locals just enjoying the experience, there was never a formal impact survey done until now.

Alleyway Naming Project

The Citizens Advisory Committee had the job of narrowing down their top picks for a potential name for the alley behind the Des Moines Theater. This alley is home to a few businesses and will soon have more, and in order for it to be easy for first responders and others to find, it needs a name. 

The Citizens Advisory Committee had 391 different alley name entries to choose from, and brought their top three picks to Council. They are Jack’s Alley, Waterland Alley, and Backstage Alley. The name Jack’s Alley would celebrate a local hero, Alfred Jackson Jones Junior, while Waterland Alley celebrates the connection Des Moines has to the water, and Backstage Alley honors the cultural significance of the theater.

Councilmember Matt Mahoney said that while Jack is beloved in the community and will serve as Grand Marshall in the upcoming Waterland Parade, he prefers a name like Waterland, that will be more of an economic driver.

Deputy Mayor Harry Steinmetz said he prefers Backstage Alley because it will be instantly recognizable as being situated behind the theater. Councilmember Grace Matsui agreed that Backstage Alley is more descriptive of this particular location, and she wondered whether we might be able to find another location to name Waterland Alley. 

Councilmember JC Harris said he favors Jack’s Alley. Councilmember Gene Achziger suggested that it be brought to a vote by the public, since the council was completely split. They decided to table the decision until Mayor Traci Buxton, who could not be present at this study session, was also able to weigh in.

Communications Update

Nicole Nordholm, newly appointed Director of Communications, gave Council an update on progress being made in the area of communication with the public. She said the popular weekly City Manager Reports will continue. In addition, three comment boxes will be installed at City Hall, the activity center, and the field house. Another way the public will be able to communicate more easily with the city will be a comment and question space coming soon to the website. They will also create a way to subscribe to an e-newsletter, and make some needed updates to Channel 21. Council was impressed by the amount of things Nordholm has made progress on during her short time as Director of Communications. 

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors Theatre, and Hot Feet Fitness. After working for 10 years at Burien Community Center, she moved on to teaching fitness classes and to work the front desk of a Burien yoga studio. For many years Mellow kept a moderately popular cooking & lifestyle blog, and she had a brief stint in political journalism during a local election. Clear and informative writing has always been a side hobby of Mellow’s and she looks forward to bringing you unbiased coverage of City Council meetings.

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