Study session held to discuss Blaine’s economic future

By Stefanie Donahue

Dozens of Blaine residents flocked to the Blaine Senior Center on Monday, August 15 to receive a progress report on Blaine’s initiative to improve the local economy.

The study session was the second of three to be held during the initial stages of the city’s Strategic Economic Initiative, which involves detailed analysis, strategic planning and ultimately the implementation of project proposals suggested by local interest groups and community members.

Last month, the city released three surveys to gauge public opinion and gather ideas on ways to address specific needs in the community. The surveys each addressed the interests of library users, residents and tourists.

The city announced its partnership with La Conner-based Beckwith Consulting in early June. Since then, both entities have met with 21 interest groups – ranging from fine arts and performance groups to the Port of Bellingham – to help develop an economic improvement plan for Blaine.

On Monday, company principal Tom Beckwith, led a presentation detailing a status report that included preliminary results trickling in from the three community surveys released in July.

A total of 341 Blaine residents have responded to the community-based survey, 105 have responded to the library survey and 24 have responded to the visitors survey, he said.

According to Beckwith, residents rated Blaine’s Marine Park the highest quality location in Blaine, while the Blaine retail environment was considered lowest in appeal. When asked to identify the trail in need of most repair, the majority of respondents identified the Peace Portal community trail.

A total of 282 individual comments were left on the 341 survey responses, he said. Respondents who took the library-specific survey left nearly 80 comments.

Next, Beckwith, in conjunction with the city, is tasked with sifting through proposals suggested by community members and interest groups. Once the surveys are closed and projects are identified, staff will develop and vet each concept as well as identify estimated cost.

A follow-up survey will be sent out to the public, listing projects, associated cost estimates and lead group behind each proposal.

It will be up to the public to come together to not only prioritize projects, but to also ensure that each task is implemented successfully, Beckwith explained. Issues that are identified as low-priority may not receive city funds, he said, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be completed by non-city players.

“Who is behind the project? Who has the initiative? And who follows through?” he said. These are the important questions being asked of the public now, he said.

“It depends on you,” Beckwith added. “That’s the pressure you’ve got to apply.”

Several members of the public spoke at the Monday meeting to make suggestions for improvement in the community.

Many embraced the idea of encouraging development in historic buildings downtown. Others maintained support of facilities dedicated to attracting tourists, such as affordably-priced hotels or specialty stores.

“In this room, we have leaders that have already stepped up,” said city manager Dave Wilbrecht at the meeting. “That’s what it is going to take.”

The public can still weigh in on Blaine’s economic initiative. Both resident and library surveys will be open for another two weeks and can be found by visiting the website and clicking the “news flash” tab. The visitor survey will remain open for another year.

To learn more, please visit ci.blaine.wa.us. Links to each survey can be found below:

Library survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Blainelibrary
Resident survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Blaineresident
Visitor survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BlaineVisitor

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