60 Seconds with P.S. Reilly, President and CEO of the Athena Institute

P.S. Reilly is the president and CEO of the Athena Institute, a Washington-based consulting firm for organizations seeking clean and sustainable solutions.

BF: What initial factors should a community consider before embarking on a waterfront revitalization?

PR: Waterfront was an overlooked asset for decades-no more. But community waterfront revitalization can imply a significant commitment of time and resources, often in the form of large visions with multi-staged projects. Starting with a critical mass of community decision makers on board with the need and vision to revitalize the waterfront is key. Some begin with a large public engagement process to define the vision; others build a plan and then bring the citizens on board. Early efforts involve identifying initial funding strategies, often utilizing public/private partnerships and government assistance. Initial scoping should also outline the unique development challenges arising either from the previous use or planned use of the waterfront. The potential for project cost/time overruns loom larger where significant environmental issues or complex permitting processes exist.

BF: What specific communities are undergoing innovative, noteworthy waterfront enhancements?

PR: The Southeast False Creek (SEFC) and Olympic Village in Vancouver, BC is dealing with huge growth, and the presence of the Olympics in 2010 provides the incentive to build a world-class sustainable development. Historically, the SEFC site was used for industrial and commercial purposes. While maintaining ties to the past, SEFC will be a model sustainable, mixed use development with goods and services within walking distance and housing that is linked by transit and in proximity to local jobs. Shoreline works will include a new island and inter-tidal fish habitat, a bridge, a boardwalk, and a seaside greenway and bikeway. During the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the area will be temporarily transformed into the Olympic Village, housing approximately 2,800 athletes and officials. Eventually the development will be home to 16,000 people.

Another community is Bremerton, WA’s Harborside District where more than $500 million in new construction has been completed since 2000. The sheer size of the redevelopment is impressive: parks, hotels, restaurants, condos, a ferry and bus service, a marina, a boardwalk, and office facilities are just a few newly built structures. To fund these projects, federal, state and local government, public/private partnerships, and private financing were all tapped-no new taxes to citizens were involved. BF: What are current trends pertaining to sustainable waterfront redevelopment? PR: For development in the water, such as marinas and piers, new techniques have created light-permeable, grated floats that allow vegetation to survive. At the shore, communities are looking at soft shore development-vegetative and bio-structural shorelines instead of conventional bulkheading, which are usually huge concrete barriers along the waterfront. Inland, many cities are now pushing for buildings to have “green” roofs that remove silt and pollution and have sand filters to reduce pollutants reaching the watershed or storm sewer.

Conference Washes Ashore in Washington

Community leaders across North America convened in Bremerton, WA for the city’s first Urban Waterfront Revitalization Conference in September.

“More cities are realizing that their waterfronts present golden opportunities for economic redevelopment,” says Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman. “To succeed, projects must harness the energy and ideas of a wide range of players, from politicians to private sector consultants.”

Attendees met with community leaders, port officials, project planners, private developers, and state officials from Sausalito, CA; Annapolis, MD; Olympia, WA; Wenatchee, WA; and Sidney and North Vancouver in British Columbia.

Presentations at the conference, produced by the Athena Institute, highlighted topics such as financing, transportation planning, public engagement, waterfront promotion, smart growth, and environmental sustainability.

Additionally, the conference launched the Urban Waterfront Alliance, which allows networking among service providers and community leaders and the sharing of best practices for shoreline redevelopment.