Aberdeen’s multimillion-dollar Gateway Center project suspended

The Gateway Center project will have to wait.

Despite $7 million committed to the roughly $14.9 million project, the Aberdeen City Council voted to “suspend all activity,” regarding the project. The project has been discussed since 2013.

The Gateway Center project construction was supposed to start sometime in either 2023 or 2024. Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave said the project could be pushed out a couple additional years before it’s back at the top, or near the top of the priority list, because of the North Shore Levee project.

“I suspect it’s gonna probably sit on hold until we get further along with the levee project, and we can start focusing on other items like the Gateway (Center,)” Schave said. “The main focus is the levee project.”

Schave said one of the problems for a project like the Gateway Center is getting the rest of the funding. The city tried to ask for money from the Washington Legislature.

“The funding requests are pretty tied up with the levee project,” Schave said. “So that’s top priority … the answer (for the Gateway Center) is ‘I don’t know when.’ But, I would suspect when the levee project is further along and the funding is further accomplished for it.”

Schave said city staff didn’t want to compete for funding.

“Rock (Project Management Services) thought they could find some other funding means, and they just never developed,” Schave said.

Schave said he suspects the $7 million the city committed to the project in July 2021, or at least part of the $7 million, would go back into the city’s general fund to be used for “bigger” priorities.

“That $7 million wasn’t gonna hardly make a dent in the cost of the Gateway, but it’ll be real good to have some funding for other items that we need to do,” Schave said. “We can spread it out into other things.”

If the Gateway Center is not built, that money could go to other projects that are more pressing, such as new fire stations and a new police station, according to Aberdeen City Council President Kati Kachman, who spoke to The Daily World on Monday, Aug. 1.

The fire stations and new police station would cost $73 million, Kachman said. The city can bond up to $28 million maximum, which would create a $45 million deficit. The proposed police station would also include a court and a jail.

“Continuing to tie up the money in the Gateway Center project, a project that isn’t critical, isn’t fiscally responsible at this moment,” Kachman said.

Kachman said the $7 million currently committed to the Gateway Center project may need to shift to help with other projects., which came from the insurance settlement funds after the Aberdeen Armory and the old Aberdeen Museum burned down on June 9, 2018.

Schave said the city put the project on hold in hopes that in the near future staff can “pick it back up again.”

“In the meantime, there are a lot of other things that are direly needed that we’ll have to be working on some funding for,” Schave said. “I don’t know what more I can say. The council’s looking at priorities. The Gateway Center without (receiving) enough funding became less and less of a priority.”

The Gateway Center, if built, is supposed to be self-sustaining. The estimated annual operating revenue for the center would be $160,195.38. The estimated annual operating expense would be $133,450, with an estimated $26,745.38 profit.

Ward 1 Position 2 Councilmember Kacey Morrison made the motion to “suspend all activity” regarding the Gateway Center project until further notice.

The motion, which was made without Ward 6 Position 12 Councilmember Dee Anne Shaw, who recused herself from the discussion the council had on Wednesday evening, July 27, wasn’t made without objection. Council members Joshua Francy, Liz Ellis, and Deborah Ross dissented, while eight members voted for the motion. If Schave had a vote, he said he would have voted for the motion, too.

Ellis voiced why she was against stopping the activity around the project.

“It would be unfortunate to suspend all activity given the millions of dollars that have been invested in this project,” Ellis said. “And we have a contractor working on this project. (Their) contract doesn’t expire until the end of September.”

Ellis said if the City Council keeps the project on the table that it allows work to go forward so they can find out if it’s financially viable or not. Ellis said on Wednesday, July 6, that she was waiting to get the final report from Rock Project Management Services, which was supposed to finish in late September or early October.

Kachman said she agreed with Morrison’s motion to suspend the activity.

“But I want to reiterate that the project for me isn’t a ‘No,’ right now. It’s a ‘Not yet.’” Kachman said. “I’m also a firm believer that this entire agreement should eventually be brought to council once we select an organization and we shouldn’t wave our ability to look at important contracts, such as these.”

An alternative for the city, if the Gateway Center isn’t built as proposed — a 20,000-square-foot structure with office space, visitor information facilities, an exhibit space, a gift and coffee shop, and an event space — is to build it smaller.

Schave said there have been “all kinds of ideas kicked around,” regarding an alternate plan for the Gateway Center, but one that hasn’t been discussed is buying an existing building.

“The city doesn’t own another location that stands out for that,” Schave said. “Probably most of the discussion has been to maybe build a smaller, but less expensive structure on the site of the Gateway Center, and use it for a visitor’s center.”

The smaller building — a visitor’s center — could be built at a different location, according to Schave.

Schave said the city doesn’t have funding laid out for buying another building for something like the Gateway Center.

“We’ve got the museum building now,” he said. “We’re finding out that we’re struggling a bit to figure out funding for what it needs. So no, we’re not looking for another building to buy.”

After the city bought the building in the 100 block of West Wishkah Street for the Aberdeen Museum of History, Schave said they found out there’s considerable work required.

“We found we’ve gotta put a roof on it, we’ve gotta put an elevator in it, (and) a fire suppression system, just to make it usable,” Schave said. “That’s gonna be tough enough right there.”

Kachman said time has played a factor when it comes to the Gateway Center’s place as a priority.

“So, 10 years ago it certainly was one of the top priorities of the city,” Kachman said. “But, since the amount of time that has passed, these other projects have also been identified as priorities. And, in my opinion, they’re a higher priority today to solve for than putting the Gateway Center in.”

Kachman said it’s difficult to tell right now when the Gateway Center will move back up the list.

“As I look through the capital facilities projects that we have out there, there’s a lot of high priority projects, so I think time will tell,” Kachman said.

An artist rendering from 2021 shows what the proposed 20,000-square-foot Gateway Center is supposed to look like. This shows the cafe space’s outdoor seating. (Courtesy of Coates Design)

An artist rendering from 2021 shows what the proposed 20,000-square-foot Gateway Center is supposed to look like. This shows the cafe space’s outdoor seating. (Courtesy of Coates Design)