Local marinas are proven economic engines

   When the business community thinks about economic development, new high tech companies and corporate headquarters often are the first images to surface. But too often we neglect to see the economic development that is occurring right within our local community.
   Marinas are a perfect example of this.
   The Port of Bellingham and the City of Bellingham are in the early stages of a multi-decade partnership to redevelop the waterfront, with a huge focus on transforming the former Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and paper site. After G-P decided to close its pulp and chemical operations, the two governments partnered to launch the Waterfront Futures Group – an 18-month citizen-led effort to create a bold new vision for our evolving waterfront.
   Two key components of that vision were to change the G-P mill site into a mixed-use site with business, light industry, housing and public access; and to take the 28-acre contaminated G-P treatment lagoon and turn it into a downtown marina.
   The Port and City have moved ahead on both fronts and are working together on creating a master development plan for the waterfront. Lately there have been some misunderstandings about the downtown marina. Some see it simply as a place for out-of-town wealthy people to park their boats. Others claim that countywide taxpayers will be paying for the creation of the marina.
   Here’s an attempt to clear the air with a few facts about the new marina and our local marina industry – and it is an industry. Today almost 80 percent of the Squalicum Harbor moorage customers live in Whatcom County. The new downtown marina will draw from the same marketplace. The Port currently has 130 people on its moorage waiting list, the vast majority from Whatcom County.
   The people on the waiting list are hoping for moorage slips in a variety of sizes. The maritime industry trend – nationwide and in Whatcom County – is toward people buying larger boats and keeping smaller boats in upland dry stack storage. So the preliminary plan for the new downtown marina is for it to have most of its 350-450 slips above 40 feet in length. The Port also plans to have a dry stack boat storage be part of the upland development by the new marina.
   Why should you care about any of this if you aren’t a boater?
   Today there are more than 90 businesses in Whatcom County earning their livelihood in the marine trades. This includes everything from a two-person marine upholstery shop to four local manufacturers that employ more than 50 people. The local boating industry supports hundreds of family wage jobs, including people who manufacture boats and boat supplies, people who repair boats and people who rent charter boats.
   A preliminary economic analysis of the planned downtown marina by Paul Sorensen of BST Associates found that owners of boats more than 40 feet long spend about $11,000 per year owning and maintaining their boat. This includes moorage, repairs and maintenance, equipment and other expenses. They spend about $13,000 per year while using their boat, which includes fuel, groceries, restaurants, retail spending and other expenses.
   The Port has a small portion of Squalicum Harbor reserved for visiting boaters and likely will do the same in the new downtown marina and the Whatcom Waterway for visiting boaters. Sorensen’s analysis showed that visiting boaters spend about $180 per day when they are in Bellingham, supporting our local restaurants, hotels and marine suppliers.
   The economic analysis predicted that the new marina will generate 59 new jobs with a direct income of more than $1 million a year. When economic multipliers are applied, that income stream is projected to be $1.4 million. In addition, the marina will generate state and local taxes.
   The Port’s marinas in Blaine and Squalicum harbors are shown in this study to already directly generate 204 jobs in Whatcom County with an income of over $5 million a year.
   During cleanup and construction of the new marina site about four years from now, this project is expected to generate hundreds of construction jobs generating about $13 million – $19 million in wages as well as $1.9 million in state and local taxes.
   In addition to all of these direct benefits, the new downtown marina also will enhance the regional aquatic environment by adding 28 acres of new aquatic land and four acres of high quality nearshore salmon habitat with its unique design as the nation’s first “Clean Ocean” marina with extensive habitat, salmon passageways, gently sloped interior beaches and public parks and trails around the outside perimeter.
   Finally, the new marina also is expected to generate greater interest in development of the land alongside it for a maritime trades cluster and on the land across the Whatcom Waterway for mixed uses. Marinas are proven to generate upland development.
   How will this project be paid for? The boaters will pay for what the boaters use. The Port’s moorage structure for its marinas in Bellingham and Blaine is based upon having moorage customers pay for marina costs and improvements. The Port does not spend tax dollars on marina development, operation or maintenance. This is covered through moorage fees. This model was used when the Port expanded the Blaine marina in the 1990s and was proven to be successful.
   Local tax and grant money will be used to create the new public parks and trails because those are used by the entire community. The public park and trail on the exterior of the marina will be the new front door to Bellingham reaching into the bay with excellent public access. This perimeter park will complement multiple large parks the Port and City are planning for the adjacent property and the main mill site.
   If you would like to find out more about the new downtown marina or to read the full text of this economic study, visit the Port of Bellingham’s website www.portofbellingham.com and go to the Waterfront Development section.

By Carolyn Casey,
Port of Bellingham
Corporate Communications Manager

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