ELECTION 2103: Knutson wants waterfront progress as his council legacy

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 5, 2013 

Bellingham Waterfront

Part of the Bellingham waterfront, including Whatcom Waterway in the foreground and the wastewater treatment lagoon, looking down from Western Washington University March 15, 2013 in Bellingham.

COLIN DILTZ — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

As I run one last time for re-election, it seems impossible that 20 years has gone by so fast. The date was Nov. 2, 1993. There I was at the county courthouse waiting for the results. I was approached at 8 p.m. by a reporter from The Bellingham Herald and he said "What are doing here? You are not supposed to be here until you win or lose." Well, by that time I just wanted it to be over. Anybody who has ever run for office knows what I am talking about.

So, I was sworn in and the first 20 years started. Bellingham in 1993 was mired in a mall recession. Downtown was mostly boarded up and the public was in a very bad mood. One of the first decisions the new council had to make is what to do with the old Levin's building, better known as the Washington grocery building.

After many long meetings we chose Catholic Community Services. That was one of the best decisions we made that first year.

That corner was dead with nothing happening at all. After it was rebuilt, we were approached by a group of people that wanted to start something called the farmer's market. The only thing they asked for was a small investment of $25,000 for some covered tarps on stands and a place to have it.

Boy, did we get yelled at for that. "How dare you spend money on something like that," we were told.

Well, we all know how that turned out and that was the beginning of the downtown turnaround and we thrive today.

I mention that because if we had not bought the old grocery building and helped a few great people start the farmer's market, where would we be now?

I am very proud of how downtown has come back and look forward to seeing it continue to do so over the next four years.

In that first year also we were faced with a decision to put parking meters in Fairhaven. Well, we did not and look what has happened over there -- a great beautiful destination known all around the world.

One of my proudest moments took place when we were able to work with Tom Fischer and Whitewater Co. to get the Sportsplex built. I went to the port and asked them to hold off closing the ice arena, which they were slated to do. Thanks to Doug Smith, Scott Walker and the late, great Pete Zuanich they gave us the time to get it done.

And now the soccer commission runs it and what a wonderful place it is for the youth of today and their families.

On a sad note, the loss of Georgia Pacific hit me hard. Having grown up here I knew a lot of people who worked there. At one time we had more than 2,200 employees working there and living and paying taxes in Bellingham.

That hit our budget very hard, some of which we are finally recovering.

I know some of our citizens were happy to see them go, but jobs like that can be gone forever if we don't do the waterfront planning right.

That leads me to talking about my final four years on the council. I could have mentioned much more about the successes of the last 20 years, but the next four years will be the most important years of this city's and county's future.

We will, by the end of the year, get the master plan from the planning commission. That is why I am running one last time. This is the No. 1 issue facing us over the next decade. We have got to get it right, but, most of all, we have to pass the master plan and get going.

We have a window that only is open about every hundred years and before it closes we need a plan and some action on that waterfront. Let me say how optimistic I am with the mayor, port and staffs who have been working on this for so long. Now it is up to the City Council and port commissioners to, as Larry the Cable Guys says, "get 'er done."

We have a chance to get it right and, with your help, we will.

We need a working waterfront. I know, I have worked on the waterfront for more than 39 years.

We need family-wage jobs that will help this community thrive.

We also need recreation down there.

Getting people down to the waterfront is a high priority.

Also, not competing with downtown but working with them for access to and from both places.

I am committed to seeing real progress on the waterfront before I walk out of city hall for the last time as a member of the Bellingham City Council.

Bellingham is a great city and after 58 years of living here and serving on the City Council for more than 20 years I still believe in a place called Bellingham. It has been an honor to serve this great city. I have lived the Bellingham dream all my life and the next four years I will work to make that dream come true for all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Knutson is running unopposed for re-election to the Bellingham City Council Ward 2 four-year term.

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