Grays Harbor County is being asked to consider taking over management of the proposed Gateway Center when the facility is built.
Recently, the county approved funding $55,000 for the project as a 10-percent match to the state’s contribution of $550,000.
When complete, the Gateway Center will serve as a business complex and a tourist hub. Greater Grays Harbor Inc. will house its offices there, and the facility could stage business conferences.
Past discussions have included a potential partnership with multiple agencies to allow for forest permit and fish and game license sales. During the commissioners’ morning meeting on March 13, the list of potential tenants and partners included Greater Grays Harbor Inc., the Council of Governments, the Small Business Development Center, and possibly Grays Harbor College.
Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson took a moment to dispel a rumor that the college was being considered to take over purview of the facility. While the college could use the facility for business programs, such as Leadership Grays Harbor, and a culinary program, the college is not being eyed as a managing entity.
For Larson, having the county take over the facility after the project is complete is a matter of philosophical continuity.
“Long-term, especially with the type of things we’re hoping to have in the facility, it makes a lot more sense strategically to have the county have control of management of the facility — (the possible tenants are) county-wide agencies and their interests are county-wide. And if you have a city, any city really, managing that, in the long-term, that could create conflict,” Larson said. “If it’s county managed, these agencies that work for the county just make sense.”
The city has received state funds, and it hopes to receive additional funding to build the center. Because state funds are involved, Larson said he wasn’t sure it was legal for the city to give the facility (or sell if for as little as $1) to the county when complete. However, Larson seemed confident the city could lease the facility to the county for $1.
Through that agreement, the building would come under the county umbrella debt free.
“We will bring you a new facility that will allow for these agencies to be moved in there… in exchange for that, the county will agree to take on the management of that and manage it for those agencies,” Larson said.
The discussion was not intended for immediate action, and Larson said the conversation was overdue.
Commissioner Vickie Raines, who is a proponent of the Gateway Center and one of a few people who helped create the initial concept several years ago, agreed that the conversation was overdue. While she’s supportive of the project, she’s undecided about purview.
“I don’t know if the county should operate it. We need to really look into that…” Raines said. “I’m not opposed to those conversations, I just think they need to be had.”
Commissioner Randy Ross said he believes the time to line up tenants is now.
“I think it’s time that we have to vet out who are going to be the players in this and who are going to be in the facility,” Ross said. “We have to start defining some tenant costs… You can’t get anyone to sign a lease if they don’t know what they’re signing.”
Larson agreed, saying it was time to have tenants signing leases.
Commissioner Wes Cormier has been opposed to the county taking ownership of the building. He also stated his opposition to the county taking purview.
“We’re asset rich and we’re money poor. We have a lot of facilities and we’re very spread out,” Cormier said. “Personally, I’d like to see the county not run or operate this. I think the city could do a good job at it.”
Also present during the discussion was Greater Grays Harbor Inc. CEO Dru Garson.
No action was taken on the matter during the morning meeting.