City council to discuss big plans for old city hall property

Published on Mon, Jul 9, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine City Council is preparing to take the next step with the property currently occupied by city hall after three focus group meetings were held with community members over the past two months.

The project to replace the aging city hall building will be called the Blaine Harbor Square project, according to a draft agreement set for city council vote at the July 9 council meeting (see the document posted below). It will include a hotel and conference center and have space for a new community/senior center and a new library.

The project will be a partnership between the city of Blaine and a private developer based in Seattle named Andy Yeung. Blaine City Council member Dennis Olason, who was part of the focus group that developed the idea, told me the city will effectively turn over a portion of the current city hall property to the private developer in exchange for a new community center and library.

Olason served on the Blaine Civic Center Focus Group, which met three times in May and June of this year to discuss future uses for the current city hall property. The group also included city council member Ken Oplinger, city manager Gary Tomsic, community development director Michael Jones, city planner Alex Wenger, Blaine planning commissioners Sue Sturgill and Van Tabb, Blaine library manager Debbie Farmer,  senior center director Dana Hanks and two local businesses owners.

The Blaine Harbor Square plans incorporate the current city hall property, the Blaine library, and the skate park behind city hall, all of which the city owns. According to the draft agreement, focus group members voted on ways the property could be used and rated a hotel and conference center as the highest priority, with a new library and senior center following behind.

Funding for the hotel and conference center portion of Blaine Harbor Square project will come from a federal program formally known as the Immigrant Investor Program, but commonly known as EB-5. The EB-5 funding can only be used for job creation and would not be able to be used for the establishment of the library or community center.

Put simply, the EB-5 program 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 between $500,000 and $1 million in an American development project or enterprise and create or preserve at least 10 jobs for American workers.

According to the draft agreement, the Blaine Harbor Square project will include the creation of an EB-5 “regional center,” which is a public or private company or firm that will support economic growth, job creation and improved regional productivity in a given area. Investors can include both direct and indirect jobs created via a regional center toward the 10-job requirement for a green card through the EB-5 program, something not allowed without the creation of a regional center.

Investors have established 13 regional centers in Washington, with at least one in Whatcom County. According to the EB-5 website, the regional center provision of the program is set to expire on September 30 of this year.

Blaine City Council members will vote on the draft agreement to support the Blaine Harbor Square project and the accompanying regional center at their July 9 meeting (tonight), which starts at 6 p.m. in the city council chambers. Council members will also hold a 5 p.m. study session to further discuss the Blaine Harbor Square project in the council chambers, immediately before the city council meeting.

Click here for tonight’s full city council meeting agenda.



City of Blaine Harbor Square Civic Center Draft Agreement
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