County Commishes Talk Gateway Project, Partnerships, Clarity

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“Economic development” and “collaborative partnerships” were the watch words at this morning’s county commish meeting. Also a clarification.

A trio of fellas representing three distinct entities and interests presented their vision for a “collaborative” partnership with the county on the proposed  Gateway Center Project in Aberdeen. They were Dru Garson of Greater Grays Harbor, Inc, Scott Reynvaan of the Quinault Indian Nation, and Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson. They were added to the 10 o’clock portion of the morning agenda.

Larson did most of the talking, following a brief refresher on the original impetus and priorites for the project focusing on revitalization efforts. Reynvaan laid those out as: 1) Mitigating downtown Aberdeen traffic, 2) Promoting access to the waterfront, and 3) Building a “world class” enterprise center. He also noted that the Grays Harbor 20/20 plan identified a “transformational project” focusing on “regional tourism” and “Economic development.”

Larson talked biennium capitol budget/funds from the state legislature. Citing potential economic benefits for the county at large, Larson described the Gateway Project as a “county-wide effort ” and a “county-wide facility.”

That’s code for “can we get county buy-in + county funds?” for the project.

“It’s not right for the City of Aberdeen to continue to take the lead (on the Gateway Project)” Larson said. “If all we do is focus on economic development in Aberdeen (and no where else), that’s not going to be successful.” He noted that some mayors and the tribe are “very excited” about the project.

Cut to the chase: “Partnership” = county $$$.

Larson said the trio was here to ask to “start a dialogue” on the question of whether the county is okay with ownership of the land upon which the proposed center will sit – an area roughly where the now-defunct Pour House is – and “how we move forward to build this facility.”

I have some thoughts on this. But I’ll let you go first.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Wes Cormier clarified – twice – that talk of his potentially opposing the project as a tit-for-tat thing related to fee-for-access votes is patently untrue. Contrary to what you may have heard, Cormier emphasized that his vote on the proposed project would in no way be related or tied to the votes his fellow commishes made a few months back on the Timber fee-for-access thing. (Commissioners Vickie Raines and Frank Gordon voted against Cormier to repeal a portion of an ordinance prohibiting ‘Big Timber’ from imposing fees on the public to access their land for essentially recreational purposes. The repeal passed on a 2 to 1 vote, with Cormier voting against the repeal. Got that?)

“My concern is that the county is asset-rich and money-poor” explained Cormier. “For me, I’d rather see it (the Center) as an Aberdeen project.” He said he didn’t mind putting economic development dough toward the project, but wasn’t thrilled with putting tourism bucks into facilities. “I’d rather use it (tourism $) to bring people in to the county (than into facilities)” said Cormier.

Raines said she likes the layout of the proposed building/center but cautioned, “I don’t know how we could take on the building if it includes a lot of debt.” She said she’s supported the project for quite some time and wasn’t opposed to the county owning the facility “providing when it is released to the county, it’s debt free.”

Larson envisions the project as a “business center” to possibly include office space and technology for local bizzes that may lack both. “Nobody has money and everybody needs it” he said. “But I’m confident we’ll be able to do it (fund the project).” He talked about “what ownership status makes sense ” in order to get state moola. He said he didn’t think tourism $ would be spent on the building, but maybe on things like interactive multimedia  displays with touch screens showing people where they can spend their $ in the area.

Raines said the tourusm department has been “swept into” the fairgrounds, but she sees tourism as a possible tenant in the center, maybe with an office in the facility.  She summarized the trio’s proposal as “Aberdeen owns the building and the county owns the land the building sits on.”

Isn’t this fun?

Larson said, “We need to provide a space that makes sense to all” who want to be there. He doesn’t see it as an “Aberdeen only” project. “If the quality of life isn’t healthy in Grays Harbor, it won’t be healthy in Aberdeen. We’re all very much intertwined” he said.

Commissioner Gordon wanted to be sure some of the $ collected from tenants goes to building maintenance  and upkeep. He also stressed the importance of partnerships (there’s that word again).

Cormier said he “has no problem” with partnerships, “but right now the county is running a $1.2M deficit.”

Raines said to the trio, “You get the ball rolling for us and we’ll swap it around here and trade it back and forth for awhile.”

Watch for a revisit in late May or June-ish.

Al Smith was also present for the morning discussion.

Photo: Left side of table, top to bottom: Scott Reynvaan, Quinault Indian Nation; Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson; Dru Garson, Greater Grays Harbor, Inc

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