Aberdeen’s rosy future could hinge on Gateway Center in downtown

The purple, westbound “Welcome to Aberdeen” sign that people drive past before crossing the Wishkah Street Bridge and into downtown Aberdeen shows the slogan “Gateway to the Olympics.”

Watching the traffic during early summer head west on Wishkah Street from near the corner of South Broadway Street and East Wishkah Street, it seems as though that gateway is a springboard to the beach towns — Westport, Grayland, and Ocean Shores, among others.

John Shaw, a longtime Grays Harbor resident who is also on the board of the Aberdeen Museum, is trying to help make Aberdeen the place where the drivers of the fifth wheel RVs, large trucks, Jeeps, and sedans, want to go.

“While being here 35 years, I came to town with a business when the area’s economy crested with spotted owl and (I’ve) been watching the results of the loss of the mills and jobs and the affect (from it,)” Shaw said. “Aberdeen was already a downtown core being hard hit by changes that affected most small cities.”

One solution to Aberdeen’s revitalization may be if the city builds the Gateway Center just west of the Wishkah Street Bridge. According to the Grays Harbor Gateway Center Feasibility Study in February 2016, the 20,000-square-foot building would include office space, visitor information facilities, an exhibit space, a gift and coffee shop, and an event space.

But, in order for the Gateway Center construction to get the green light, it has to raise the funding needed to build it, according to Liz Ellis, Ward 3 Position 5 council member. The total project itself would cost about $14.9 million, according to a recent presentation to the Aberdeen City Council at a council workshop.

Ellis said the funding streams would consist of grants and “potential” public and private partnerships, or donations. She’s waiting on what the report from Rock Project Management Services, the consultants for the project, shows in late September, or early October. She also shared her confidence in a timeline for the project being built, which wouldn’t start until at least 2023, if not 2024.

“I’m hopeful, but I want to see the proof,” Ellis said. “I want to see the report that (the) Rock consultants bring to us that shows ‘this is how it will all pencil out.’”

The Aberdeen City Council, nearly one year ago, approved a committal of $7 million to the construction of the Gateway Center during a July 14, 2021, meeting. That funding was from $22 million the city received in an insurance settlement from when the Aberdeen’s Armory and the old Aberdeen Museum burned down on June 9, 2018.

According to a recent Grays Harbor Gateway Center presentation, the capital funding financial objectives include:

• Supplementing the city’s $7 million insurance fund commitment with outside funding sources so (there’s) no new financial burden for local residents.

• Project completed with zero construction debt.

• Grants and other funding sources do not compete with other city project priorities.

Ellis explained how the $7 million fits into the overall project for the Gateway Center.

“Seven million would be a leverage for outside money,” she said. “That’s looking at other state and federal funding, along with private funding. The whole idea was that the Gateway Center would be built mostly with non-city money, and so my hope is maybe the construction won’t need all the $7 million. That would be lovely.”

She called the $7 million the city’s “skin in the game,” in order to line up other sources of money to bring the project to fruition.

Once built, the Gateway Center, which would be built just west of Fuller Way, and then “abut” at the roundabout, appears it would be self-sustaining.

According to a recent presentation in front of Aberdeen City Council, 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.

Ellis explained how the Gateway Center could help launch Aberdeen in the future.

“(It would be) an information center, as well as a regional business and jobs accelerator, and business incubator,” Ellis said. “(For) someone starting up a business that needs advice, needs support, a business incubator helps pull resources and provides expertise to launch new businesses.”

Ellis explained how the Gateway Center would also help fully-formed businesses who may be looking to move to Aberdeen. Ellis called the center a “one-stop” resource center for those who want to learn about the city, learn about how their business model can be a good fit here for the community, and for the growth of their business.

Ellis said she supports the concept of the Gateway Center, especially once the North Shore Levee is constructed. Thursday, July 7, marked the first official groundbreaking on any aspect of the levee project.

“The Gateway Center has the potential to be the catalyst,” Ellis said. “It’s got the support of the Downtown Aberdeen Association.”

Aberdeen is apparently not alone in cities that have shown interest in such a place, which would allow for an information center, office spaces, and a partial museum exhibit, and other elements. Ellis mentioned how the city of Tukwila has a business incubator.

“In looking at other cities that have successfully revitalized themselves, this concept remains sound,” Shaw said. “Aberdeen has not tapped the unique remaining asset it has for improving downtown.”

Shaw also mentioned how Aberdeen keeps discussing how to attract visitors on the way to the beach towns and how the Gateway Center was researched as a necessary step for tourism, downtown revitalization, and a “hub” for economic revitalization.

“The Gateway has been identified as an anchor to that process,” Shaw said.

As far as confidence in the project as a whole going forward, Shaw sounded concerned about the Gateway Center being built. The project has been discussed since 2014.

“The only failure so far is the city’s inability to bring this project to completion,” said Shaw, who also noted the COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays.

Aberdeen City Council President Kati Kachman had no comment when asked about her current thoughts on the project.

“I’m still reviewing what I learned at the workshop in advance of our next meeting,” Kachman said.

Shaw championed the Gateway by referring to the community support for it.

“At every point, the Gateway has been affirmed by the majority of involved citizens and the City Council,” Shaw said. “It was such a good idea that the state of Washington in review has provided the city with $3.3 million of funding to move it forward in an effort to help Aberdeen revitalize itself.”

But, again, it’s been eight years, and according to Shaw, now is the time to make it happen.

“This project seeks to respond to the call of revitalizing our downtown,” he said. “Now that it is time to deliver, we need to be a community that can finish what we started.”

Matthew N. Wells | The Daily World
A three-dimensional artist’s rendering of the Gateway Center shows a mostly top-down view from F Street. Included in the rendering is the roundabout on the lower left-hand side.

Matthew N. Wells | The Daily World A three-dimensional artist’s rendering of the Gateway Center shows a mostly top-down view from F Street. Included in the rendering is the roundabout on the lower left-hand side.