GSA Helps City of Douglas Transform into a 21st Century Commercial & Tourism Hub
June 13, 2022
By: Javier Fernandez
One of the first steps the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) takes, before a project’s first shovel ever breaks ground, is to engage the local community during the planning phase of any major project. GSA aspires to be a good neighbor to the community where it operates and actively seeks ways to align its projects with local development goals. This is why GSA routinely coordinates with local planning agencies that may have historically lacked access to the same robust planning resources of larger cities. GSA also partners with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Community Revitalization, which provides expert advice to help communities reach their sustainability and economic development goals.
A recent example is the cross agency coordination with the city of Douglas. The remote southeastern Arizona city was founded in 1905 to support the local booming copper mining and smelting industries. The local economy has evolved since then, signified by the last smelting plant closing in 1987.
In 2019, GSA completed the Douglas Regional Feasibility Study. The study identified the need to relocate commercial processing to a new land port of entry (LPOE) approximately 4.5 miles west to a site the city of Douglas had offered to donate to the United States for the new port. The site was selected to allow the LPOE to act as an anchor development to spur the relocation of heavy industry from downtown to a new commercial park being master planned by the city of Douglas and Cochise County. As part of the donation, the city has committed to bring utilities (power, water, sewer and broadband infrastructure) and the Arizona Department of Transportation has agreed to construct the connector road for the facility. Today, the future feels promising for the resilient desert community and it all started with a shared strategic vision between federal, state and municipal agencies.
The reason for this optimism is due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides funds for GSA to modernize and expand the Raul Hector Castro LPOE and for the construction of a new dedicated commercial port. Together these projects constitute the largest federal investment on port infrastructure in the community since the Castro LPOE was expanded and renovated in 1993. This once-in-a-generation federal investment provides the city of Douglas the opportunity to position itself to transform into a 21st-century regional tourism gateway and commercial transportation hub.
Since 2019, GSA, EPA, the city of Douglas, and other state and regional partners have been working to identify key economic development strategies that best align with the recently funded port projects. In 2020, GSA and the EPA sponsored a virtual community design charrette. Through a series of workshops, the federal team engaged over 50 key regional stakeholders to explore ways to achieve mutually beneficial goals. The group also discussed transportation, land use and zoning, housing availability, economic development strategies, and site planning for the port projects.
The workshops helped solidify the community’s vision of a future in which the central downtown district could capitalize on new economic opportunities and create livable and walkable communities. For example, by building a new commercial port and shifting commercial operations away from the Castro LPOE and downtown, the city could make car lanes narrower to reduce traffic speeds and improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Additionally, the relocation of commercial activities away from Douglas' downtown district addresses environmental justice issues by reducing pollution and creating greater economic opportunities. The new commercial LPOE presents new investment opportunities and the development of a new industrial zone to accommodate and support commercial traffic growth in the region.
“Not only does this close interagency coordination ensure that federal projects support regional planning and economic development goals, but it also permits GSA to leverage federal expertise and investments to make a positive impact in the communities where it operates,” said Matt Shew, Architect and Project Manager with GSA’s Region 9 Design and Construction Division. “This approach underscores GSA’s commitment to collaborating with local stakeholders to realize a shared vision for the port projects and developing a community-driven plan that maximizes economic development opportunities.”
Already, the city of Douglas has budgeted $425,000 for downtown improvements and plans to apply for a $1 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant for additional economic development projects in downtown. Additionally, the city recently partnered with Cochise County and worked together with the Arizona Department of Transportation to approve $1.5 million to conduct a Design Concept Report and environmental assessment for the construction of a connector road to the new commercial port site. The city also recently hired a new and experienced City Planner who will update the city’s General Plan and zoning code to align with the city’s priorities for downtown.
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.