Changingthe face of Blaine

Published on Thu, Jul 15, 2004 by eg Olson

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Changing the face of Blaine

By Meg Olson

The way Blaine planning director Terry Galvin sees it, in a decade you’ll have trouble finding parking along Blaine’s waterfront. There will be busy stores, galleries and cafés lining Peace Portal Drive, with sought-after apartments above. As they sit on their balconies the apartment-dwellers will look out over moored boats and parkland, towards a replica of the Semiahmoo Lighthouse perched on what looks like a turn-of-the century fish-packing house, but is actually the city’s cleverly disguised sewer plant. In the evening they will walk out the door and stroll along a boardwalk hugging the back of Peace Portal Drive businesses, and listen to a jazz band or taste locally-brewed beer. “Imagine a thriving commercial area up here looking out over a diverse and interesting wharf area,” Galvin said.

This summer Galvin plans to light the fuse on the potential he sees in downtown Blaine by taking a piece of that image and making it real. Galvin believes building the Peace Portal Drive boardwalk will catalyze a chain reaction of tourism, income and growth that will take the rest of his vision for Blaine’s waterfront off the page and onto the pavement. “Once we start reaching a critical mass I believe development will accelerate very quickly,” he said.

The city will start building the boardwalk in late August or early September, Galvin said. When finished it will start at Lester Park and run behind the five commercial buildings between G and H streets, connecting to the H Street parklet.

The city will not build connections between the buildings and the boardwalk, but hope that the businesses themselves will do so in the future. “We just can’t afford to do that,” said Blaine Bouquet co-owner Mary Amsberry. “It will probably be our children that do it.” Despite the economic feasibility of connecting to the boardwalk and some disappointment the boardwalk design will not allow them to better use their water-view back lower retail unit, Amsberry said she thinks the long term impact of the boardwalk will be very positive. “We’re excited about the boardwalk coming in and fixing up the place,” she said.

City council member Bruce Wolf owns the building beside Blaine Bouquet and says he is coordinating his plans for the building with the boardwalk. “What I would really like is for it to be used as an anchor concession for the boardwalk – a coffee shop, a restaurant, or a microbrewery,” he said.

City manager Gary Tomsic negotiated a $1.3 million grant and loan package through Whatcom County’s Economic Development Initiative, which distributes rural sales tax revenues. Galvin said the remainder of the estimated $1.5 million it will cost to build the basic boardwalk would come from city hotel/motel tax revenues. He added the city is now soliciting an additional $300,000 to build two viewing shelters and a performance pavilion, designed with a lighthouse theme.
Other additions to the boardwalk will come as funds become available. “A pedestrian bridge to the Marine Park is something really trying to take on some tangibility,” Galvin said. He expressed optimism the Port of Bellingham, which owns and operates the Harbor and properties on the south side of Marine Drive would be a likely contributor. “It would be of great value to them,” he said. “It links the waterfront and the upland and that’s a critical component of the Cain Wharf Master Plan.”

The master plan, which Galvin presented to Blaine city council at their June 28 meeting, is a strategy to take the momentum from the boardwalk project to the Marine Drive area. “We’ve been trying to weave many diverse plans together,” Galvin said. “The essence of it is to create an experience that draws people to our community.”

The master plan starts the experience on the boardwalk and leads visitors over the pedestrian bridge and on a two mile loop that links an expanded Blaine Marine Park with added birdwatching stations, the public education and recreation facilities planned as part of the new sewer plant, beach areas, the municipal pier, a proposed museum and the historic Dakota fish boat, and the marina itself. “It allows people to weave their way through a multitude of experiences,” Galvin said. One possibility being considered is to restore the wetland that once ran parallel to the train tracks, linking Semiahmoo Bay to the harbor, and building a bridge over that and the railroad tracks to connect Marine Drive to the city. “This is a conceptual view of what we’d like to see happen over the next five or ten years,” Galvin said.