North Cascades Gateway Center’s future gets more focused

By Kimberly Cauvel, September 23, 2014, Go Skagit

Education and research, hospitality, and specialty residential; those are the broad uses that stand out as the best options for the historic North Cascades Gateway Center so far.

Representatives from the Port of Skagit — which is the local agency leading an adaptive reuse study for the 225-acre campus — said the consultant team and local partners involved in the project are excited to share their preliminary findings with the community.

The three categories that stand out as the most feasible and with the greatest local benefits also coincide with the highest community votes at a June 5 public meeting. And they may be able to coexist on different parts of the campus, creating a district of community resources rather than being taken over by one large industry.

“I’m pretty pleased. I think having three different uses that have risen to the top that can be combined into a district is wonderful,” Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin said.

The port, Skagit County and the city of Sedro-Woolley formed a partnership in January to explore redevelopment options for the site.

The campus is currently state-owned and managed by the state Department of Enterprise Services. It is only partially occupied, and the condition of some buildings has deteriorated over the years.

The three local partners hired a team of consultants early this year to complete an adaptive reuse study of the property with the help of grant money from the state Department of Ecology.

Since forming the partnership, the group has met monthly, project manager Marc Estvold said. The partners have also consulted with the Upper Skagit Tribe, and employees and clients of existing campus operations.

The study is specific to the former mental hospital campus in Sedro-Woolley. It does not include Skagit County’s adjacent recreation area.

Unlike during a study done in 1992, complete demolition is not in the cards, although a handful of the buildings that are in poor condition or do not fit well with the rest of the potential “district” may come down eventually, Martin said.

Most of the existing buildings are in better shape than the local partners originally thought.

“We were very pleased with both the historic integrity and the condition of the buildings themselves,” Martin said. “The staff has kept them up very well. We’re impressed.”

Yet to be determined is which agency would own and operate the potential district, what the specific mix of uses would be, and how much it would cost to get there. But all the partners agree that current uses and current staff are an important component of the facility’s future.

Estvold said that the institutional knowledge and history the campus employees have to offer is irreplaceable, and the partners conducting the study have learned the existing services at the campus are important to the community.

Whatever the final outcome, the campus is not expected to transform overnight.

“We don’t envision this happening in one day, but over many years,” Estvold said.

The study partners will hold a public meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday at the RSN Building at North Cascades Gateway Center in Sedro-Woolley.

The consultants will be available to take questions and comments about project goals, property information, what the community said about the campus in June, an assessment of the best possible future uses, potential redevelopment strategies, existing needs and the project’s next steps.

The ultimate goal is to draw up an agreement with the state, county and city for how to proceed with redevelopment of the site to benefit the community at large. The team hopes to have a sense of what that might look like early next year.


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