View of the Eureka Waterfront site from First and C streets

Imagine for a moment that you’re in Eureka in the late 19th century. You’re strolling along the waterfront, amidst a lively scenery of fishing boats and shops and whatever else was going on in Eureka in the 1800s. Somehow, you encounter a time machine and travel to 2018. Would you be shocked when you encountered what is now Old Town Eureka?

The Eureka City Staff certainly thinks so. Which is why they are doing everything they can to come up with a successful development of the vacant waterfront property on First street between C and F streets. The most recent development plan for the C-to-F site includes retail and residential buildings and a community park. The Eureka City Council has a special meeting set for Tuesday June 19, to discuss the development strategy.

A city staff report prepared in advance provides some flowery background on the site, stating:

The vacant area located on Eureka’s waterfront between C and F streets is one of the community’s greatest development opportunities. Approximately three city blocks in size, for most of the city’s history it served as Eureka’s front door. People and goods embarked and disembarked along its chaotic wharf. All manner of commerce and industry sprang up in the strategic location. It would come as quite a shock for a time-traveling Eurekan from the 19th century to see the sleepy, dusty expanse that is there today.

What the waterfront from C to F street used to look like, according to city staff. Image — actually of Liverpool, England — from staff report, via a stock photo website.

The “dusty expanse” that is there today.

The city really wants to build something that Eureka citizens can be proud of. Back in 2015 the city hosted a multi-day design charette featuring  tours, workshops and events to gather the community’s feedback on this project. Probably most thrilling was the design workshop which allowed local folks an opportunity to work with an architect and sketch their dream developments.

Following the charette, the city compiled a list of the most common desires to consider during the planning process. City staff drafted a plan it feels fit the criteria, presented by Eureka Development Services Director Rob Holmlund during a City Council Study Session on December 19, 2017. They decided that the development must have parking, a green space and buildings with both residential and retail uses.

Overview of plan from the city staff report.

Some challenges with the plan are the city development standards and Coastal Commission zoning. Also, the city questions how much need there is for retail spaces. Holmlund told the Outpost that the most interest he’s received from developers has been to build a waterfront hotel on the site.

But Holmlund and the city staff believe they have found a way around these issues. For one thing, the city is adopting a new General Plan Update soon. Holmlund told the Outpost this means the city can adjust some of the development standards in place, which could help expedite this process.

Holmlund said the Coastal Commission zoning can be slightly more difficult to navigate. “That’s the biggest most frustrating part of this project,” Holmlund told the Outpost. “Even if the council approves [the plans], it would probably take the Coastal Commission 18 months to certify them.”

With the new, adjusted plan, the city staff was able to work around this issue too.

“That’s the magic of this plan,” Holmlund told the Outpost. “We’ve come up with something that fits the coastal commission rules but also meets the vision of the community.”

Concept draft from the City Staff report.

You’re probably wondering: How will the city pay for all this? Well, they thought of that too. Assuming the City Council eventually gives the thumbs up on this new plan, the city would get to work on preparing the permits. Then they plan to auction off the land to private developers.

Holmlund told the Outpost that having the permits already in place will be a big incentive for potential bidders.

“I don’t have any doubt people will want to build, with a property that’s already been approved for development,” Holmlund said. He believes, realistically, that development could start as soon as 2020.

The C-to-F Street Development Strategy will be discussed at the Eureka City Council Special meeting on Tuesday June 19 at 4:00 pm at Eureka City Hall, 531 K Street.

A draft concept from the Eureka City Staff