Collaboration at its best: Inslee hands keys to future innovation, clean-tech campus to Port of Skagit

Gov. Jay Inslee visits the site of the future SWIFT Center on June 29, 2018. He was there to mark the transfer of 225 acres of state land to the Port of Skagit for a clean technology campus. (Office of the Governor photo)

Gov. Jay Inslee today handed over the keys to the future Sedro-Woolley Innovation for Tomorrow (SWIFT) Center to the Port of Skagit. The 225-acre property will be developed into a clean technology campus that serves as an economic engine for the area.

The property transfer, almost five years in the making, involved numerous local and state partners and is being hailed as a model of intergovernmental collaboration.

Northern State Hospital operated on the property from 1913 to 1973. The site later served as a multi-service center for the U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Social and Health Services. Most recently, the state Department of Enterprise Services has been leasing buildings and grounds to a number of organizations.

The transfer required both legislative and local actions, including authorization by the state Legislature to transfer the property to the port and annexation of the property into the City of Sedro-Woolley. To secure ownership, the state also required the port to show local investments of at least $5 million in redeveloping the property.

“This is a powerful example of what we can accomplish together when the state works in collaboration with local governments,” Inslee said. “This week’s property transfer to the Port of Skagit helps the community realize a long-term vision that makes cultural, economic and environmental sense.”

Port of Skagit Commission President Kevin Ware said the transfer to local control will allow the port to put the beautiful, historically important, and publicly owned property to better use for the community.

“Over the next several years, in coordination with other local government agencies, the port will work with the site’s new anchor tenant, Janicki Bioenergy, to create much needed, well-paying technology-research and manufacturing jobs,” Ware said. “The transition to local control will also allow the port to make the park-like grounds more open to the general public.”

The port estimates redeveloping the property into the SWIFT Center will bring between 600 and 1,000 new sustainable, community-wage jobs to the region during the next 10 to 20 years.

In addition, Ware said the port plans to increase public access to the formerly closed campus, continue strong stewardship of environmental resources and increase emphasis on restoring and preserving features and buildings on the site.

City of Sedro-Woolley Mayor Julia Johnson said the transfer of the SWIFT Center will be a boost for both the city and the region. Sedro-Woolley looks forward to receiving ownership of 15 acres surrounding a pond near the campus entrance as well as the site’s cemetery. The port is set to give that portion of the property to the city upon its transfer from the state. The city and port will split the cost of building facilities such as parking and restrooms.

“With this transfer comes opportunity to construct a destination park, complete with pond and annual fishing derby. We believe the park will become a favorite for family gatherings,” Johnson said. “In addition, there is clear community interest in seeing the Northern State cemetery restored, which the city and community members are committed to doing.”

The old Northern State Hospital building in Skagit County. (Department of Enterprise Services photo)

Local solutions for local issues

Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said that community partners agreed to five goals early on:

  • Encourage the private sector to create and sustain jobs benefitting all of Skagit County and its citizens.
  • Continue to promote public recreational use of the property.
  • Protect environmentally sensitive areas such as Hanson Creek.
  • Acknowledge and protect the historic significance of the property to the local community, the wider region and the state of Washington.
  • Acknowledge and respect the interests of the neighboring Upper Skagit Indian Tribe.

“Today’s property transfer will help us grow and prosper in a responsible, common sense way that respects the past and stays true to our common goals,” Dahlstedt said.

Sen. Keith Wagoner said the collaboration between local governments and state agencies that made the property transfer possible was “truly amazing.”

“Today’s property transfer is a huge win for our community. It has been essential that everyone — the state, the port, Sedro-Woolley, Skagit County and the community — all come together to find solutions that will benefit the county, the region and the entire state.”

More than 25 local, state and federal partners worked collaboratively to define and work toward a new vision for the site, which was listed a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

Enterprise Services Director Chris Liu said, “Local problems need locally-based solutions. Our charge was to bring the right people to the table to reach an agreement that meets criteria established by local partners at the outset. By working closely together as partners, we have achieved what once seemed like an insurmountable goal.”