For decades, the City’s public works yard (where we park sanitation vehicles and conduct various maintenance, storage and administrative functions) has been located on East Main Street along the Echo Bay waterfront. There are two big problems associated with this facility: (1) it is in terrible physical and operational condition owing to advanced age; and (2) its location on the shoreline impedes any restoration of the waterfront.

Last week, after many years evaluating and debating options, the City Council made the crucial decision to move forward with a new yard on Beechwood Avenue, thereby providing the community with public works infrastructure that can support services for the long-term, while also clearing the waterfront for higher and better public uses. We authorized a bond of up to $25 million to cover the full cost of construction, relocation, property acquisition, and site work.

On a parallel track, we have been negotiating with Forest City Residential to consider the specific features and terms of a proposed waterfront development featuring parkland, housing, environmental restoration, and shops.

Although the Council has not yet committed to the Forest City project – and will not until the conclusion of the environmental review process and the negotiation of a land disposition agreement – there is an obvious interplay between the new yard and the Echo Bay development.

Preliminary projections suggest that the Forest City project will generate almost $16,000,000 for the City during the twenty year period of the public works yard bond, plus $9,000,000 for other taxing entities, and about $12,000,000 in capital investments directed to public assets. It will also inject roughly $350,000,000 into the local economy. In other words, the Forest City project can pay for a significant share of the public works yard, while also delivering a vibrant shoreline with far-reaching planning benefits.

This presentation to the Council lays out the numbers in far greater detail. (Please note that this presentation is based on an earlier iteration of the new public works yard estimated at $19 million. The higher $25 million figure approved by the Council is based on a more comprehensive design that would also incorporate functions presently sited at the municipal marina. The increase would change many of the specific figures in the presentation, but would not alter the logic or conclusions of the analysis.)

To be very clear, one way or another, the City MUST invest significant resources in our public works facilities. The choice concerns HOW this investment will be funded and what our community will receive in exchange. We can stick taxpayers with the entire bill and abandon our waterfront for another generation, or we can reverse the impact on taxpayers by injecting into the equation the proceeds and benefits of economic development and shoreline renewal. The calculation is complex, but the choice is easy. And the Council’s action constitutes a really big step forward.