Delilah’s Paint the Town: A Reality Check

As a journalist, it’s my job to ask questions, to look at both sides of an issue. Take for example the upcoming “Paint the Town” event planned for Aug. 2 by dynamic radio personality Delilah Rene Luke and a cadre of enthusiastic volunteers.

What but good could possibly come out of a day-long painting party aimed at giving Port Orchard an extreme makeover? The idea is to spiffy up the town’s image before Cedar Cove Days (Aug. 26-30), a long-planned tribute to best-selling author Debbie Macomber, Delilah’s South Kitsap neighbor and good friend. How could anyone question such a prospect, especially considering Delilah is footing the bill for much of the paint and other materials?

How indeed? Yet I know I’m not the first person to ask, “They’re going to do what, by when?”

This week, I spoke to Delilah and co-organizer/ design coordinator Heather Cole, a local business owner, about details like liability, quality control and environmental concerns, issues raised last week at a meeting of the Port Orchard Bay Street Merchant’s Association. I guess you could say I was playing the role of Devil’s advocate (it’s on my job description), because, as they say, the Devil’s in the details. Here’s what I found out:

Liability: As part of her donation to the town, Delilah is purchasing short-term liability insurance to cover painting sub-contractors, also donating their services, and volunteers, should someone, God forbid, fall off a ladder or the like. During the event, children will not be allowed to wander around work areas. There will by children’s activities — including a mural painting party hosted by Delilah in a vacant lot — in designated areas of the town.

Quality Control: The two blocks of Bay Street targeted for beautification will be divided into sections, each overseen by a team of professional painting contractors. Any work that is deemed substandard will be repainted by the pros, Cole said.

Environmental Concerns: Buildings will be pretested for lead-based paint. Any that do have lead will simply be painted over rather than pressure-washed in advance.

Effect on Businesses: The event, which will require closing two blocks of Bay Street, was originally set for a Saturday, but a hue and cry from merchants prompted organizers to switch to Sunday. For some, including Morningside Bread Co., however, Sunday is one of the busiest days of the week. Owner Amanda Rudd said the enthusiasm being generated by the event is “wonderful of course,” but she’s worried about the impact on her bottom line. Even a large pre-order of baked goods Delilah will distribute to volunteers is unlikely to offset the loss of regular business, Rudd said. Rudd also worries that the job will actually take longer than one day.

Cole said the Paint the Town committee is sensitive to the merchants’ concerns, hence the switch to Sunday, which affects fewer businesses. With an expected 300 to 500 volunteers (about 200 are currently signed up, according to volunteer coordinator Leah Wattree), prep work done the day before and the leadership of people who paint for a living (as well as use of their equipment), the time line will be met, Cole said.

Color Scheme: Port Orchard has historically had trouble effecting consensus on a decor for downtown. Remember the debate over the marquee? Several years ago, a committee of the merchants association researched colors that would wear well in this damp climate and not show dust from the exhaust of the hundreds of cars that travel Bay Street, a state highway, each day. They came up with a palette of Northwest shades of green, red and gold.

Delilah, when she first mentioned painting the town, suggested lighter colors with a maritime feel. But some landlords had already painted their buildings in the Northwest theme. Cole’s job has been to choose colors for buildings to be painted that are complimentary to those already in place yet acceptable to Deliah, who after all is springing for the paint. Cole has had to do some damage control surrounding rumors that the sprucing up was being forced upon building owners. Ultimately, she said, landlords and tenants must be on board with the proposed paint job.

“We’re here to help and give a free service to the community, not only for Cedar Cove Days, but for the entire future,” said Cole. “They had the impression they would be forced. We’ve straightened that out.”

Six of the buildings to be painted belong to Seattle biologist Mansour Samadpour, from whom Delilah plans to rent a building. Samadpour has previously held back on renovating the buildings. Because of the number and size of Samadpour’s buildings, the colors chosen for them will help tie the town’s decor together, Cole said.

The committee has gotten the go-ahead from the Mentor Company, which owns part of the block in which Delilah has her restaurant, Delilah’s Cozy Kitchin, and from Bob Geiger who owns the movie theater. The owner of three homes, quite ready for some new paint, has given permission, and the committee is finalizing negotiations with the owners of five other properties, Cole said. Some building owners, including the Olde Central Antique Mall, will do their own work.

“Butt Ugly” Port Orchard?: As plans began to unfold, Delilah, not known for repressing her opinions, described Port Orchard as “butt ugly” … on more than one occasion.

Some people, including barber Ernie Moreno, took offense.

“I don’t like it when people come in and say our town is ‘butt ugly,'” said Moreno, who characterized Delilah as a “queen bee” bent on pressing her own agenda.

Delilah, speaking by phone from a radio engagement in New York City Friday, admitted that her enthusiasm for the project may have come off the wrong way. Like Cole, she reference dthe damage control that was required to convince merchants that they would not be forced to partake in the project … and that the colors would indeed be tasteful.

“The response at first was pretty bad,” said Delilah. “We did a horrible job of communicating. I take all responsibility for that. Now they’re all excited and helping us.”

Delilah was hurt by the comments on media articles and the rumors that swirled around the town.

“Somebody started really ugly rumors we wanted to do it in Pepto Bismol pink,” she said. “People personally attacked me for no reason. I came in wanting to help Debbie and bless the community and help make the town beautiful and somehow it got turned into I wanted to turn it into pink trailer trash.”

Cole, who has a background in home design, said the public can rest assured.

“She has really good taste,” said Cole. “I have not had to say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s horrible. She’s a very classy lady, and she has very classy taste.”

Delilah will not say how much she is donating for the event. Other merchants and corporate sponsors are also kicking in, she said.

“It’s a lot, but it will be worth it,” she said. “We’re excited. We’re hoping for a great turn-out.”

Volunteers, especially those with painting or construction skills, are still needed for the event and for Saturday’s prep work. To volunteer, call Cole at (253) 225-1096, e-mail paintthetown@ymail.com or visit www.portorchardpaintthetown.com.

Hear Delilah interview her South Kitsap neighbor and friend Debbie Macomber in April, 2008.

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