December 1, 2005
Two projects, one parcel
by JUDY HODGSON
There will be a lively turnout at next Tuesday's Eureka City Council meeting. The battle lines are clear. On one side, remnants of the old guard -- solid, hard-working, conservative types, some small and large business owners -- joined by others who are just plain worried/concerned/apoplectic about a possible Eureka waterfront invasion of Arcata Plaza-types in dreadlocks. On the other side -- progressive/liberal, innovative, forward-thinking visionaries (pardon the redundancies) who think they can bring some economic salvation to the North Coast in the form of big-dollar eco-tourism.
Well, a cartoon version of the two sides with swords drawn is not hard to imagine as the council gets set to choose between two competing proposals for one prime waterfront parcel, cleaned up and ready-to-develop. (See this week's cover story by Editor Hank Sims.)
No one is denying that the Hampton Inn project is sound. Tourists are forever asking for a hotel on the waterfront and we really don't have one yet. (Hampton Inns are not Hilton's top quality, but nice enough.) Plus, there is a symbiotic relationship between the hotel with its meeting rooms and the city-owned Wharfinger Building next door. The financing is in place. The large Balloon Tract across the street -- once it is developed by Rob and Cherie Arkley -- will undoubtedly tie in nicely to serve visitors and anchor the west side of Old Town. The council's backing of this project is a no-brainer.
The competing project takes a lot more work to digest and to evaluate. And there is a huge amount of fear involved, let's face it.
The CEED project -- Center for Environmental Economic Development, a 10-year-old think tank based in Arcata -- has been in the works for several years and brings a lot of new ideas to the table. It's an eco-hostel designed by a world-class architect and it has the backing of some major heavyweights in public/private financing. The project is being organized and championed by a leader in the international hostelry business, a man who just happened to retire here. (He's working for free, by the way, for the joy of watching the birth of something that really could help the North Coast become a true destination location and a world leader in eco-tourism.)
There are many reasons why this project makes long-term sense. It taps into a new class of tourists, travelers young and old with good incomes who would stay more than one or two days, who would buy art to ship home, and who would return. It would showcase the work being done by our students at Humboldt State's Schatz Energy Lab and our cultural roots with a Wiyot interpretive center. It would actually be a laboratory in sustainable living, a pioneering model to be copied elsewhere like the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, a project that has been able to show the world a different way of looking at sewage.
Both projects have/will have financing; CEED's will just take more time. There will be philosophical differences: a privately funded project, boxed and ready-to-go promising short-term cash flow for the owners and the city vs. a not-for-profit one that may, may have much greater and certainly more complex long-term economic impacts coming from an emerging new segment of the tourism industry.
Our hope is that the council doesn't let itself get sidetracked with issues based on fear, not facts. For instance, even though the liberal political action committee, Local Solutions, and other groups have entered into the debate via emails, they are not officially involved in the eco-hostel project. And those who fear an invasion of Arcata Plaza-types need to respectively remember that the panhandlers and hangers-on are almost never students at HSU. (The CEED project would have some students living on-site acting as docents. Visit http://ceedweb.org/humboldtbayhostel)
These are two meritorious projects that should be embraced by the council. The challenge is to find another waterfront parcel there are only a few options left in the downtown for the project that comes in second next week. How about land west of the Samoa Bridge near the Adorni Center for the Hampton Inn?
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