Many ideas have been thrown into the community hat about what to create in the newly named Waterfront District. Parks, a marina, educational facilities, mixed use buildings — the options abound.
Add one more: a place where research meets commerce.
On Oct. 1, Governor Chris Gregoire declared Bellingham’s Waterfront District, along with 10 other sites around the state, as an Innovation Partnership Zone. The designation came with a $1 million grant to help jump-start the redevelopment project. Only four other sites received grant money.
These innovation partnership zones were chosen as unique geographic areas around the state that are aiming to become globally recognized as hubs of expertise, innovation, and commercialization, said Dodd Snodgrass, economic development specialist for the Port of Bellingham.
In order to apply for the grant, the port had to pick a specific location and name partners who are doing research in the area.
The port chose the Waterfront District as its innovation zone, hoping to capitalize on the marine trades, Snodgrass said. Specifically, the port has its eye on Georgia-Pacific’s tissue warehouse near the intersection of Roeder Avenue and F Street. Georgia-Pacific announced earlier this fall that it will shut down their tissue mill and associated warehouse in December, allowing the port to move in sooner than expected.
“We’re designating this [site] as a Marine Trade Center,” Snodgrass said. “The idea is that there would be a lot of marine-oriented business that would work well here in this facility.”
Within the 250,000-square-foot warehouse, the port plans on devoting 10,000 square feet to a research center.
“The primary emphasis is going to be on research and development tied to marine industry, repairs and supplies,” Snodgrass said. “We’re talking about the kind of work on the waterfront for an economy of the future.”
One of the private sector partners involved with the project is All American Marine, which builds high-speed passenger ferries and work boats in Fairhaven. AAM is heavily involved in its own research project and is already one of the port’s tenants. It was a match waiting to happen, said Snodgrass.
For the last few years, AAM has worked with Pacific International Engineering in Edmonds to research the effects of boat wake — specifically from fast, passenger-only ferries — along the shores of Rich Passage, near Bremerton.
“We’ve spent $10,000 investigating this,” said Matt Mullet, CEO for All American Marine.
Thanks to an exclusive partnership with Teknicraft Designs in New Zealand, boats built by AAM already have low wake wash. Their catamaran designs incorporate a hydrofoil wing fastened between the two hulls, allowing the boats to literally fly through the water. In turn, very little of the boat is in the water, meaning it creates very little wake.
For example, an 82-foot research vessel currently being built by AAM is expected to ride a mere 12 inches in the water when traveling at peak operating speed, Mullet said.
Someday, with the help of supercomputer models that can test hull designs and predict the wake that each design would create, Mullet said he hopes to build an ultra-low-wake-wash boat.
“We could be known nationally and possibly internationally for taking these technologies and applying them to the marine industry,” Mullet said. “It’s exciting.”
Along with partnering in the Innovation Zone, AAM is also considering moving to the Waterfront District to be one of the anchor tenants in the Marine Trade Center. Doing so would allow the company to upgrade from its current 20,000-square-foot facility and could potentially save them money on the last step of production: launching the boat.
The current building does not have easy access to water and “it’s costing [us] $20,000 every time [we] launch one of these boats,” Mullet said.
Staying on the cutting edge of technology can be difficult for businesses, especially if technology is advancing faster than the marketplace. Mark Bussell, a professor of chemistry at Western Washington University who helped Snodgrass with the grant proposal, said he hopes that by working together, business and innovation can meet in the middle and provide new products and educational experiences.
“The goal from Western’s perspective is to provide hands-on opportunities for students and faculty while benefiting local industries,” Bussell said.
Western is considering its own version of the Innovation Partnership Zone, called the Innovation Center, on its proposed waterfront campus.
No matter the name, the future of research and commerce in the Waterfront District is closer to becoming a reality.