“Ka-Ching” go the wedding bells

Bainbridge business and city leaders say the island should be doing more to cash in on weddings.

The island has all the right ingredients to attract these highly lucrative events. Bainbridge is surrounded by water and draped in greenery. It’s a scenic, 35-min. boat ride from Seattle, where chances are good that some of the close to 1 million people over there will get hitched at some point. Bainbridge also has plenty of quality service providers, including caterers, musicians, beauticians and decorators.

With the average wedding costing just over $30,000, island business leaders say there’s a lot of money to be spread around. And two weddings on one weekend can easily fill every hotel and B&B on the island.

One way to pull in more weddings would be to substantially reduce the $10,500 conditional use permit that is blocking some of the island’s many bed and breakfasts from hosting weddings.

City Councilwoman Debbi Lester is proposing such a measure, and it’s strongly backed by the island’s chamber of commerce.

“The requirement of the (permit) has pretty much killed the wedding business for B&Bs and farms on the island,” she in a story I wrote for today’s paper. Read it HERE.

I didn’t have room for it in the stor, but it’s kind of interesting how this issue came to Lester’s attention.

Back in ’07, Lester, who is an officiant with the Universal Life Church, was called in at the last minute to help with a wedding that had been moved from a Bainbridge B&B to a North Kitsap B&B.

The soon-to-be wed couple had long planned to tie the knot on Bainbridge.

“Our first date was a ferry ride to Bainbridge,” said Joel Shepherd, who lives in Seattle with his wife Beth. “We knew we wanted to incorporate Bainbridge into our wedding.”

They booked their wedding at a Bainbridge B&B that boasted gardens, a pond, rooms for their parents to stay in, and plenty of parking for guests.

But as the city began ramping up enforcement and calls for payment for the permit, the B&B’s owner canceled the event. She hasn’t hosted a wedding since.

The Shepherd’s ended up finding a nice place in North Kitsap, but moving the wedding wasn’t easy or cheap.

“It was a hassle to deal with, and it rattled us a bit,” Joel said. “But we got lucky we found another B&B.”

I tried to find out what the rules are for hosting weddings at B&Bs in the unincorporated north end of Kitsap County, which is where some of the weddings that would have gone to Bainbridge have headed instead. Unfortunately, my several widely dispersed calls to the county planning department were not returned.

I talked to a few North Kitsap B&B operators who said it’s tough to get a permit from the county, but they were a little unclear on the details and costs. Despite the challenges, more North Kitsap B&Bs have gone through the process of getting a permit to host weddings than the B&Bs on Bainbridge.

I also tried the city of Poulsbo, and got in touch with a helpful planner by the name of Alyse Nelson. See took the issue up with her director and promptly sent me a detailed, well-researched response. Funny thing is, Poulsbo doesn’t actually have any B&Bs in its city limits (the Murphy House will now house students). Nelson said the city would handle the issue of weddings at a B&B (or any other nontraditional venue) on a case-by-case basis, and probably only if someone complained.

While weddings are a happy occasion, the traffic, noise and trash they often generate sometimes makes neighbors unhappy.

That’s why Lester wants to keep in place many of the permit guidelines that minimize a wedding’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The big thing for her is the cost, which she hopes can be cut down to the $1,000 range.

Lowering the cost will actually generate more money for the city, she believes. More weddings mean more economic activity, and that means more tax revenue for the city.

For more about the economics of weddings, check out THIS detailed breakdown how much couples and their families are spending, and where that money goes.

And below, see the chamber’s list of businesses that benefit from weddings.

Wedding Related Businesses(2)