Empowering Communities: How GSA's community focused urban development program drives positive change in Douglas
By: Javier Fernandez
In the remote southeasternmost corner of Arizona, where ocotillo and yucca plants adorn the Chihuahuan desert landscape, lies Douglas — a small, former mining-smelting town working to transform itself into a 21st-century regional commercial and tourist hub. Fortunately, the city of Douglas counts on good federal agency neighbors committed to helping it achieve its urban and economic development goals. This is where the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) Urban Development’s Good Neighbor Program comes into play.
During any capital project's planning phase, GSA routinely engages local communities to identify opportunities to align its federal investment with local and regional development priorities. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Community Revitalization provides additional expert advice to help communities reach their sustainability and economic development goals. The Good Neighbor Program's collaborative approach fosters a sense of ownership among the various stakeholders, as their voices are heard, and needs are addressed throughout the construction project's life cycle.
The Land Ports of Entry (LPOE) construction projects in Douglas provide a good example of how GSA actively engages community stakeholders to drive the development of transformative LPOE construction projects. The projects, both funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), emerged from a 2019 regional feasibility study that identified the need to relocate commercial processing to a new dedicated commercial port facility approximately 4.5 miles west of the existing Raul Castro LPOE, which will also be modernized and expanded. Together, these projects constitute the largest federal investment in port infrastructure in the community since the Castro LPOE was expanded and renovated in 1993.
In turn, the city of Douglas is leveraging the commercial port project to anchor development and spur the relocation of heavy industry from its downtown. The city has committed to bringing utilities and is working with the Arizona Department of Transportation to construct the connector road for the facility and received a $8.2 million grant from the Arizona Commerce Authority to deliver broadband services. The construction of the new commercial port facility is driving and accelerating the delivery of high speed broadband internet services that had been sorely absent from the region.
More recently, the city commissioned a study for digging a well to provide water for the construction project. Along with $425,000 earmarked for downtown improvements, the city of Douglas has also applied for a $1 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant and in April 2023, the city was selected to receive Thriving Communities Program funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Combined with private investment, the commercial LPOE presents new investment opportunities and the development of an industrial zone to support commercial traffic growth in the region.
“It’s rewarding to see how the stakeholder engagement and workshops we conducted through the Good Neighbor Program contributed to making these port projects a reality,” noted Matt Shew, Architect and Project Manager with GSA’s Region 9 Design and Construction Division. “It’s a testament to our community-driven approach and what happens when GSA involves the community and listens to their input. It also reinforces our agency’s commitment to being a good neighbor in every new project we undertake.”
Working hand in hand with local stakeholders, GSA strives to ensure that federal construction projects maximize the net benefits and positively impact the communities where it operates. This type of local stakeholder engagement is a best practice that allows GSA to deliver two LPOE projects that not only meets the needs of the community but also actively supports their economic and development goals.