Michael Senko of Bellingham-based Re-Use Consulting works with his father, company owner David Bennink, to disassemble the old Ford dealership building on SE Barrington Drive and Highway 20 in Oak Harbor. Building owner Dan Berg has decided to demolish the structure to make way for an unknown future development.
Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Nothing lasts forever and that includes the old Ford dealership on the corner of Highway 20 and SE Barrington Drive in Oak Harbor.
Building owner Dan Berg has received a permit from the city to demolish the 55-year-old structure and, if all goes well, it should be down around the end of the month. The building has been vacant for several years and it’s become clear that its time has come.
But Berg said that won’t make seeing it go any easier.
“I spent 30 years in that place,” he said.
His ties to the dealership stretch back to 1969 when his father bought the business. Berg purchased it from his dad in 1985 and ran it as his own until 1999 when he sold it and retired.
The dealership continued on as Whidbey Island Ford until February 2008 when it closed its doors, largely due to changes in the automobile industry, the nature of distribution channels and a souring economy.
Two of the other three dealerships in town, Whidbey Island Volkswagen Mazda and Frontier Chevrolet, would also close over the next two years.
Berg has been fishing for a new tenant since 2008 but has had no takers. The only interest expressed has been for the lot, which is about 2.5 acres, without the building. So, Berg said he made the decision to tear it down.
Once the work is done, the property will be sold or leased. Berg said the property has a lot of potential and could host a variety of different businesses, but that he has no idea what might end up there.
“With this economy, I really don’t know,” he said.
Steve Powers, director of Oak Harbor Development Services, confirmed that the property is zoned community commercial. That means anything from a strip mall to a big-box business could set up shop on the vacant lot, along with some upper-level residential units.
“There’s a pretty wide range of uses that could occur there,” Powers said.
City business leaders aren’t lost on the possibilities either.
Its location at the southern entrance to the city and its high visibility on Highway 20 make it a “gateway” location, according to Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Jill Johnson.
The intersection of Highway 20 and SE Pioneer is where many travelers decide what they think about Oak Harbor and that influences their decision to keep going or take a detour to downtown.
“It’s a powerful piece of property,” she said.
Johnson’s heard a lot of different hopes for the lot. Some want to see it turned into a city park or become the future location of a covered farmer’s market. But Johnson said the property should be utilized by a business that would provide the city with some of the sales tax revenue it lost when the car dealerships closed.
Johnson said her hope is for a shopping complex of mixed use, such as Harbor Village on the corner of NE Seventh and Highway 20. But rather than having any big-chain stores like Starbucks, she said she’d prefer it offer a combination of regional mid-sized stores, like Whidbey Coffee, along with local mom-and-pop businesses.
Others hoped to see the existing building put to use. Chuck Bos, 96, bought the Ford dealership in the early 1950s when it was still located downtown. He moved the business to its present location and built the new building in 1956.
Bos said it would have been a great place for a furniture store and was disappointed it couldn’t be saved. However, he said Berg was a good man and understood.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “It’s a hell-of-a-good building.”
With its large wood and much of its internal timber framing still in good condition, Berg agrees that demolishing the structure and throwing everything away would be a waste. That’s why he’s hired a Bellingham-based consulting firm that specializes in the reuse of building materials from demolished structures.
According to Berg, just about everything in the building will be recycled, from the salvaged lumber to the cinderblocks and concrete.
He admits he isn’t saving any money this way, nor does he consider himself an overzealous environmentalist.
“I guess it just makes me feel better,” Berg said.