The city of St. Helens is set to re-apply for the BUILD Transportation Discretionary Grant on July 15, in hopes of receiving $11.1 million to continue its Waterfront Redevelopment Project, according to John Walsh, City Administrator. The funds would help the city establish a public waterfront boardwalk, which the city is calling a “riverwalk,” and create transportation connections onto the Veneer property, according to the city’s website. Walsh said the funds will also include street landscaping.
As The Chronicle previously reported, the city’s application was rejected in December of last year.
The BUILD grant, which stands for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, would finance most of the $12.6 million total project cost, according to Walsh.
That total cost and grant request is slightly less than what the city requested for the same grant in July of last year. When the city first applied for the BUILD grant, the request was for nearly $15 million, and the total estimated project cost was $18 million, according to the 2018 grant application available online.
The reason being is that the project this time is a little more inland, which makes permitting less complicated and the project less expensive, Walsh explained.
Walsh said it is common for transportation grants to not be accepted the first time around. Last year, the city’s grant application finished in the top 12% of approximately 800 applications that were submitted throughout the United States, Walsh said.
The city will find out if this year’s application was successful by December.
The entire Waterfront Redevelopment Project concerns a 22-acre site that was formerly the location of Veneer Mill and Boise White Paper, LLC.
The overall vision for the Waterfront Redevelopment Project is a work in progress, Walsh said. Since the city purchased the Veneer and Boise White Paper properties in 2015, the city has held community meetings to find out what St. Helens residents want in the re-developed waterfront. Some of those wishes include trails for public access, a riverwalk, and a pier or some sort of over-water structure, Walsh said. At the same time, Walsh said it will not be entirely park, and the land will be mixed-use development.
“We’ll have things that will activate the waterfront, get some tax investment back on the tax rolls,” Walsh said.
According to Walsh, the project has three objectives: improving access to the waterfront, connecting the transportation system, and providing a platform for private investment and economic development, while preserving cultural resources and not removing the connection with old town.
One new factor that might help the city secure grant funding this time around is the opportunity zone that benefits St. Helens, which has come into effect since last year’s grant application. Walsh said the opportunity zone is a complex tax benefit which will give the city the ability to attract capital, and the funding application gives the ability to attract capital a priority.
The grant also comes after the city secured an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement in January of 2018 to secure a private-public partnership with Tokola Properties to redevelop the northern two-thirds of the 22-acre site. Tokola states in the 2018 BUILD grant application that it plans to develop “an approximately 100-unit boutique hotel [. . .] followed by three phases of mixed-use residential units for a total of approximately 158 units.”
If the grant funding is secured, it will be the first step in making major changes to the St. Helens waterfront. Walsh said the 2019 BUILD grant application will be posted on the city’s website sometime shortly after the July 15 due date.