Blaine City Council supports city hall proposal

Published on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine City Council members have expressed their support for a proposal to build a new community center, new library and a new hotel in downtown Blaine.

The project is currently called Blaine Harbor Square. The project will encompass the current city hall, Blaine library and the skate park, all of which is owned by the city. The hotel would take the place of the current city hall.

The project would be a partnership between the city of Blaine and Andy Yeung, a private developer from Seattle. Yeung said the project will use a federal program aimed at promoting foreign investment in the U.S.

The federal program, known as EB-5, allows foreign investors to obtain a green card in exchange for commercial investment in the U.S. Foreign nationals seeking a green card must invest $500,000 or $1 million in an American development project or enterprise and create or preserve at least 10 jobs for American workers for at least two and a half years.

Yeung said he has been working with a number of Chinese investors interested in funding the hotel portion of the Blaine Harbor Square project. Yeung said he’s confident it could spur other development in downtown Blaine.

“I would think [the project] could initiate something of a more serious magnitude [in the downtown area] and attract other developers,” Yeung said. “There’s no reason why this plan would not re-ignite this effort.”

Blaine is an appropriate place for such a project because of its location on the U.S./Canadian border and its proximity to two international airports, Yeung suggested. He said these factors make the city especially attractive to foreign investors who could easily reach the city through Bellingham or Vancouver.

Though investors have been lined up, Yeung said he cannot start collecting funds until the EB-5 application has been approved. Yeung expects that process to take at least eight months.

An eventual agreement between the EB-5 investors and the city would involve the city turning over the city hall property for use as a hotel and conference center in exchange for a new community center and library, most likely on the property north of city hall, Yeung explained. EB-5 funding can only be used on commercial enterprises, and therefore cannot be used to fund the library or community center.

Speaking at a June 9 city council study session, Blaine community development director Michael Jones said the sale of the city hall property will most likely not cover the cost of a new community center and library.This means the city will probably have to chip in some of its own money to make the Blaine Harbor Square project a reality.

Yeung has been working with  city officials and members of the community to develop a basic concept of what should replace the current city hall. About six months ago, Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic organized a focus group to determine priorities for the city hall property.

The 16-member focus group, made up of city staff, council members, local business owners and community members, met three times in May and June. The group considered best uses for the property and concluded that a hotel and conference center would be the most optimum function, followed by a library and senior center.