Sixty people gathered Tuesday evening at Aberdeen High School to meet, greet and eat while helping create an action plan to revitalize the area.
The event, labeled “Bring the Vision to Life,” was hosted by Grays Harbor Vision 2020, an organization formed in 2007. The group divided tasks into five areas: signature spaces and places, infrastructure and governance, environmental assets, diverse and prosperous economy and social and cultural opportunity. The public was encouraged to weigh in on boards posted along the wall of the school commons.
At a similar public meeting a few years ago, the group got input from the public and community leaders and then went out into the community to seek more input. From that a long list of tasks was developed.
“Between 2008 and 2010 about 100 community members found a lot of different ways to talk to thousands more. We went everywhere, … to find out what mattered to people, what they thought would make Grays Harbor not just good, but someday great,” said Vision 2020 board president David Quigg.
In an interview following the meeting, Quigg said that Vision 2020 takes the pulse of the community and then works to find partners to implement projects the public wants done. He says it is accurate to describe Vision 2020 as part community action “aggregator,” part networking group and part booster that celebrates achievements on the Harbor.
The only direct action the group has physically accomplished itself was to organize Paint the Corridor, he said. Other actions were implemented through partners. “We help take people’s requests and turn them into reality” and then celebrate the achievement in community forums that also serve to gauge what is still relevant and what is practical now, he said.
Partner participation can be fluid, he said. None pay dues, all work is volunteer. A list can be found on their website. He acknowledged it may look to some that the group’s efforts are intermittent. They are constant but may be more behind the scenes, he said. The executive board meets once a month to help network and help spot gaps in efforts for partners who are also frequently consulted. Public forums come less often when updated outreach is needed, he said.
At the meeting Tuesday evening, Vicki Cummings, executive director of the Council of Governments said that a consultant has been hired to work on the traffic snarls caused by auto and train traffic near the Olympic Gateway Mall in east Aberdeen.
The principal speaker was Cary Bozeman, who was just hired to create economic development in downtown Aberdeen and its waterfront. He was mayor in both Bellevue and Bremerton when the cities achieved significant development and now works as a consultant.
Most of his presentation was about a dramatic improvement in the Bremerton waterfront. The parallel to Aberdeen are notable, he said. The city’s downtown was decimated by the migration of business to the Silverdale Mall on the Kitsap Peninsula. And huge cuts to the U.S. Naval shipyard caused a spike in unemployment.
Acting as a de facto economic development director as well as a mayor, Bozeman said he was able to create a five-year plan of improvements with public and private money. He targeted an area four or five blocks long next to the old shipyard. “I don’t like big plans,” Bozeman said, but smaller more achievable ones.
Today the Harborside District features a marina with 360 slips, a parking garage, a hotel, condominiums and a lively public space with fountains shaped like ships that helps draw families and visitors downtown.
The area features a waterfront convention center and a condominium complex that originally had trouble selling but is now sold out, he said. A government center with seven county and city agencies bears the name of the retired longtime Congressman Norm Dicks.
Bozeman said redevelopment in Aberdeen is the sort of opportunity he has been looking for. He’ll establish ground floor office space “where people can see us,” he said.
About two thirds of the crowd are already involved in development or government and the rest were new to the Vision 2020 effort, including a fair number of younger people.
They split into groups of eight to 10 and weighed in on two key questions: “What are the Most Important Pending Actions to Move Forward?” and “New Ideas to Advance Vision Goals and Community Role.” People could also check off their favorite ideas or add new ones on boards against the wall.
Suggestions including more walkways, bikeways, boardwalks, recycling and a community garden. One echoed Bozeman’s suggestion to concentrate on improving one small area at a time in Aberdeen and to highlight the city’s maritime tradition. Other suggestions included working to identify retail “leakage” from cities, to discover why people leave and how to attract development. More marketing of the area’s assets, including a flourishing artistic community, was the solution offered by one table.
Improving Harbor self image and housing affordability, more open spaces and connecting to the waterfront at Broadway was suggested. People also encouraged that the rest of the county be included in improvements. Public Access television was proposed.
One table thought moving Zelasko Park to be better positioned as a gateway entrance at Aberdeen’s east side was a good idea. Another suggested melding public safety and improvement efforts county-wide.
“We should not be afraid to reinvent ourselves,” said the spokesperson for one table.
“Thanks for all you do to make Grays Harbor great,” Quigg said as the meeting ended.
As the glare of the late afternoon sun made it impossible to see much of the slide show presentation by Quigg, it will be posted on Vision 2020’s website, www.graysharbor2020.com, project lead and facilitator Jason Robertson said. A progress report will be delivered in a few weeks.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, email@example.com and on Twitter: @DW_Erin.