Last month, Northwest Bookfest announced that it was going to hold this year's festival (in the fall, its eighth year) at Sand Point, in an old airplane hangar. Northwest Bookfest's press release about the impending move lacked the kind of enthusiasm that's expected of such a big announcement. Nor was the new managing director of Bookfest, Era Schrepfer, beaming with joy when I spoke to her about the move.

"We are trying to see if this will work," Schrepfer explained. "We are just committed to this year. If things work out, then we will consider settling down [there]." The former Navy base, however, is not the best place to settle down. Though Northwest Bookfest people won't say it outright, it is obvious that they want the festival to take place downtown. In fact, they would have spent a third year at the awful corporate box (Stadium Exhibition Center) between the twin bulks (Safeco Field and the Seahawks stadium) had the Seattle Seahawks' 2002 schedule been set. "The Seahawks move into the stadium this year, and the NFL will not announce the national schedule until April," said Schrepfer. "This is too late for us, because we have to coordinate and confirm with writers and publishers way in advance.... Without knowing the Seahawks' schedule, we risked having the festival on a weekend that conflicted with a game." (This would not only result in serious downtown congestion, but also, thousands of civilized book-lovers would come face-to-face with thousands of football savages.)

Failing to locate an alternative to the Stadium Exhibition Center, Northwest Bookfest decided to move to Sand Point. To its credit, the former Navy base is more attractive than the Stadium Exhibition Center, and because it's next to a body of water (Lake Washington), it's similar to Pier 48--the Eden from which the Port of Seattle expelled the festival back in 1998, when the Port deemed the structure unsafe for large crowds. But Sand Point's aesthetic improvements are small when compared to what is symbolically lost by moving the festival from the center of the city to the periphery of the city.

The 151 acres and abandoned Navy buildings that make up Sand Point are in the middle of a neighborhood that has no real cultural value or history. It's a comfortably bland area with residents who prefer having more open space for dog walks to becoming a center for the arts. Also, the area does not have a central business district, like Fremont or Ballard or Columbia City. Sand Point lacks a concentration of what Jonathan Raban once described as "soft spaces" (cafés, bars, lofts), which are needed to cultivate a robust arts community and atmosphere. Worst of all, it's hard to get to Sand Point.

"That is our biggest concern," Schrepfer admitted. "It is a little bit far, but we hope to organize a bus system...." The saddest thing about this gloomy move to the middle of nowhere is that a festival of this size (it needs 200,000 square feet, and attracts 25,000 visitors) and prominence has no home in our supposedly literary city. Really, to move from Pier 48 to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, to the Stadium Exhibition Center, to finally Sand Point--in the space of five years--is rather embarrassing.

The whole Sand Point project (which started in 1992, and accelerated in the late '90s in response to the rapid disappearance of downtown arts spaces) has never been attractive or realistic. Championed by folks like former mayor Paul Schell as a kind of arts-topia on the horizon, Sand Point barely raises the temperature of any discussion concerning the lack of arts spaces in our city. Indeed, as a member of Schell's Arts Task Force in 1999, I found the dullest meetings to be those that had Sand Point on the agenda. (Granted, excellent arts events have been held at Sand Point, but still it feels like an artificial solution.)

"While the Sand Point facility offers a more flexible schedule and distinctive atmosphere," says the perfunctory press release, "it doesn't provide many comforts and luxuries." Put more directly, Sand Point does not provide bars, cafés, strip joints, mini-markets--the infrastructure for the arts. Sand Point is no place for artists, and it's a lousy home for Northwest Bookfest.