New port Planning and Development Director Sylvia Goodwin has quite a list of upcoming jobs – chief among them leading the charge on the G-P site redevelopment
by Dave Gallagher
In the first week at her new job with the Port of Bellingham, Sylvia Goodwin had the enthusiasm of a bookworm who had discovered a new bookstore.
In her office, detailed maps of the Bellingham waterfront were stacked in various piles and newly constructed bookshelves were already being filled with folders filled with reports and public comments about port property development plans – much of which is centered around the port’s newest land acquisition, the 137 acres of waterfront property formerly owned by Georgia-Pacific.
“It is an amazing amount of work that has already gone into this project by the port, the city and the citizens of Bellingham,” Goodwin said. “It is a lot to go through, but for a planner it sure is exciting.”
After working eight years as a planner for the county, Goodwin was hired by the Port of Bellingham as the planning and development director, replacing Bill Hager.
Hager will remain as a consultant for the port to help Goodwin get up to speed not only on the G-P project, but other projects ready for change, including the airport as well as waterfront properties in Fairhaven, Squalicum harbor and Blaine.
“While the G-P project is something any planner would love to take on, there are a lot of big projects the port is working on throughout the county,” Goodwin said.
The change in ownership of the former G-P property and its potential redevelopment has been called by some in the community the most significant event to happen in Bellingham in the past 100 years, and for those who oversee its planning and redevelopment, it’s a project of a lifetime.
Recently Goodwin sat down with The Bellingham Business Journal to talk about the expectations and goals of her new job.
BBJ: What attracted you the most to this job?
SG: It opened up at a very interesting time as the port gets started in redeveloping the former G-P property.
Rarely do you have such a large piece of waterfront property under single ownership. When you come across this situation as a planner, you can be more efficient when it comes to establishing rules and regulations.
The port and the community can creatively come up with a vision for the area, and since it’s under one ownership, we can push to achieve that vision.
It was much more difficult to do that in my last job as a county planner, because you are usually looking at an area that usually has several property owners.
In those situations, you can try to influence what that area should look like, but ultimately it is up to the property owners. If they don’t agree, it is very difficult to make it happen.
BBJ: As you begin familiarizing yourself with the G-P project, what are your initial thoughts about what needs to be accomplished?
SG: It is very important to respect the wishes of the residents, especially since they put in so much work creating their vision.
What is also important is the port’s goals, which is creating enough public access to make the area attractive for people to come visit, as well selling enough property to developers to pay for the cleanup costs. It will be a mixed-use area, and that idea works. You see it in places such as Vancouver, where they have been able to build high-density buildings while at the same time providing plenty of open areas and great views of the water.
BBJ: What is the main focus of your job?
SG: While Lydia (Bennett, who was recently hired by the port as its real estate director) handles the marketing and leasing of property, my job is long-range planning for the real estate. I will also be working on the recently formed Waterfront Advisory Committee.
I’ll also be getting a lot of help from Bill (Hager), who has been at this job for quite some time and is a great source of knowledge. As I learn more, I’ll become more involved, but right now I view him as a mentor.
BBJ: As a planner, what are the biggest challenges you see with the former G-P property?
SG: The cleanup is the biggest challenge from a planning standpoint, followed by figuring out public access to the property. There are only a few limited ways to get to the property, and that will need to be further addressed. The third challenge will be figuring out the best way to reuse some of the older buildings we want to save.
BBJ: Recently, Western Washington University put together a list of 19 proposals for projects they might consider on the former G-P property. What stands out on that list?
SG: They had a lot of good ideas, but the one that jumped out at me was the Performing Arts Center.
The port’s goal is to bring people to the waterfront, and something like that would be a great fit. People could come down, have dinner, enjoy the shops and the views of the waterfront, then take in a show at the center.
BBJ: After the former G-P property, what other major projects will you be looking at?
SG: The airport is a big one because there are quite a few challenges associated with it.
There are wetland issues to be dealt with as well as planning for development that is both safe for the area and airport-related.
The east side of the airport will continue to develop first, while there is some long-term planning that needs to be done for the west side.
Other projects that will be interesting include work on the Blaine harbor as the city builds a new sewer treatment plant, and a master plan for the Fairhaven waterfront.
BBJ: One of the debates that continues about Bellingham’s industrial waterfront is balancing the fact that recent developments have been more tourism- and residential-related, and are perceived as a threat to these incustrial companies. What is your view on this?
SG: Having a working waterfront is very important to Bellingham, and as a community we need companies such as Bellingham Cold Storage because they play a crucial role to the local economy.
What I think is great about the acquisition of the former G-P property is that we are now in a better position to have both public access and recreation on the waterfront along with working waterfront uses because there is a lot more room, so we won’t be squeezing out the existing industrial businesses on that part of the waterfront.
I do think that a working waterfront versus a public access waterfront may become an issue in Fairhaven.
The area is going through quite a bit of change, and planning is important to make sure we don’t hurt either public-access or the industries that are already there.