Hope springs eternal at Aberdeen revitalization meeting

“A rising tide lifts all ships.”

That’s how Capt. Les Bolton, head of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, described the latest revitalization efforts previewed by the City of Aberdeen and the Bozeman Group at the Rotary Log Pavilion Thursday night. The revitalization efforts have focused in the downtown area and adjacent waterfront. Since the authority is developing Seaport Landing on the opposite side of the Chehalis River in South Aberdeen, his support is welcome.

“I like that, a rising tide,” said Cary Bozeman, the former mayor of Bremerton and Bellevue, who heads the group hired by the city to reconnect it to the waterfront and improve the downtown corridor.

More than 60 citizens, politicians and stakeholders filled the tables at the meeting of the Planning Commission to hear a presentation about four months of renewed efforts to revive a downtown core battered by decades of a down economy.

The meeting was called to update the public on a six-point city plan to: connect downtown to a riverfront park, create a bold entrance to downtown, ease traffic through town, improve access around the rail line, bring movie theaters and living space downtown and restore iconic buildings such as the Morck Hotel and the Electric, Becker and Elks buildings.

Priorities for a three-year plan targeting the first three goals were presented by Bozeman, his associate Scott Reynvaan and Planning Commission chairman Brian Little. Bozeman touted a riverfront park proposed as a possibility for F Street to H Street. Reynvaan showed very preliminary drawings for a bold new entrance to the city and Little spoke of new urban design concepts aimed at reviving downtowns bogged down by traffic.

The effort is to rebrand Aberdeen. Instead of Gateway to the Olympics, which is the way some think of it, he’d have people think of it as “Urban Center of Grays Harbor County,” one with attractions to draw people to visit. You have to make the five million tourists who drive through Aberdeen want to “stop and play,” he said.

Community Development Director Lisa Scott quoted author Linda Ellerbee about change being a symbol of hope.

“Change is a word I love,” Bozeman agreed, adding that vision sparks change, while discipline and passion get the job done. That and funding, he acknowledged, admitting none of his projects in other cities had enough money at first but got there in the end through public and private partnerships he spent years developing.

The projects will require millions in acquisition and development funds. Bozeman always mentions his success in getting public and private funding for projects in Bellevue and Bremerton. He listed several federal and state veins that could be mined for money. But the city has to have skin in the game too, he added.

A proposed waterfront park would reflect the history of Aberdeen, including a salute to its logging and milling past. That era is over, so it is crucial to bring the new into Aberdeen, Bozeman said. “Success breeds success,” he said. Change takes time, as well as funding, he cautioned. The waterfront land he envisions as a park belongs to six owners, five of whom have so far approved allowing the state Department of Ecology to do an environmental assessment. While the city doesn’t own any of the land yet, it is important to move forward, Bozeman said.

He asked the crowd to think of the park as an opportunity to leave a legacy that could last 300 years if done right. Parks raise property values, he said.

The presentation was greeted with applause, positive comments and a sour note or two.

Making clear her support, Dolores Cobb, former mayor of Langley and former Aberdeen mayoral candidate, said the project was wonderful and is for “the future, for your children and your grandchildren and your great grandchildren.”

Aberdeen City Council President Peter Schave said he is excited by renewed plans to revive a sort of revitalization-in-a-box program called Main Street, which has been used at small towns around the country. An attempt in the 1990s never got much traction. Julianne Hanner, owner of the MacDonald’s restaurant in Gateway Plaza in east Aberdeen, asked the group not to forget the east side of town, while Liz Ellis, a new resident, said she wants the city to remember the Wishkah River and flood plains.

A rare sour note was hit by Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Aaron Nickell, who made it known that he wasn’t pleased that Bozeman hadn’t attended any meetings of his commission. Bozeman said he would be happy to attend.

“Leave them alone and let them do what they are doing,” counseled Michael Dickerson, co-founder of the civic group Our Aberdeen. He cautioned quibblers not to load the Bozeman Group up with wish lists and to stick to what is achievable. There is room for all to help improve Aberdeen, he said.

Businessman David Steinman wanted to know how traffic issues will be handled. Solutions are likely to involve the state Department of Transportation, Bozeman and Little said. The big question, “is how do we get the best of both worlds,” in terms of pedestrian- and car-friendly policies, Scott said.

Mayor Bill Simpson has written to state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson for a meeting in the fall about Aberdeen’s traffic issues.

Noting Seaport Landing, on the former Weyerhaeuser sawmill property, is the “monster” across the river, Bolton talked rising tides and professed himself excited about new plans for Aberdeen. The worst possible course would be to do nothing, he said. “Get involved,” he urged. The more people who are involved, the faster change will happen, he said.

Bozeman picked up the theme, noting he is reading the book “Younger Next Year” about staying strong, fit and healthy as you age. He is a firm believer in moving the molecules and moving forward, he said. “Change is just part of life.”

Amanda Gibson, her children and partner Andrew Johnson gave change and the plans a positive review. They just moved to Aberdeen from Alaska. “This is really great; love to see so many people getting excited,” Gibson said.

Scott was pleased with the meeting. “This was a great idea,” said Bozeman.

A meeting with property and business owners is planned for September.


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