Port narrows choices for developers on Bellingham waterfront site

Port of Bellingham commissioners will consider allowing their executive director to enter negotiations with Dublin, Ireland-based Harcourt Developments LLC to redevelop a 10.8-acre piece of waterfront property that includes Bellingham’s historic Granary Building.

The matter is on the agenda for the commission’s next meeting at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the Harbor Center Conference Room at 1801 Roeder Ave. in Bellingham.

The port announced Feb. 12 that a selection group—which includes Rob Fix, the port’s executive director; Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville, Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws; Steve Swan, the vice president of university relations at Western Washington University; additional port and city staff; and representatives from the Heartland LLC consultancy—unanimously reached its final recommendation after vetting proposals from four developers for the waterfront site.

The property in question, which is adjacent to downtown Bellingham and the Whatcom Waterway, is likely to be the first site of real-estate development within a grander aim to clean up and repurpose 237 acres of formerly industrial waterfront property.

Along with its Harcourt recommendation, the selection group also agreed that a local partnership between Tollhouse Energy Company and Zervas Group Architects, both of Bellingham, submitted the strongest proposal for standalone renovation on the waterfront Granary Building. The group’s recommendation indicates a desire for the favored developers to work in tandem, as well as consider additional partnerships with other developers who submitted proposals for the property.

Harcourt’s offer, submitted to the port last July, initially provided a development vision that surpassed the 10.8 acres the port is currently looking to redevelop. The Irish development firm has since agreed to scale back its proposal and align its goals with those of the Waterfront District Subarea Plan, passed last December by both the Bellingham City Council and the port commission.

The firm’s proposal does not feature many specifics at the moment, as future real-estate market forces are likely to play a major role in what sort of projects are actually built. But the site is expected to include a mix of residential and commercial buildings, as well as a possible new facility for WWU.

The port’s recommendation says Harcourt provided the most cohesive vision for the site. It also indicates the company’s development experience and financial capabilities were significant factors in the selection group’s recommendation.

Harcourt has noted development experience on projects around the globe. One of its well-known endeavors was a major waterfront redevelopment in a quarter of Belfast, Northern Ireland, home to the shipyard that built the famous Titanic ocean liner in the early 20th Century.

The firm is seeking a joint-venture deal with the port, according to the recommendation, that would have Harcourt handle predevelopment expenses, while the port commits land.

The Tollhouse/Zervas proposal on the Granary Building envisions a mix of residential, office and restaurant space. It also features some more ambitious designs, including plans to have the renovated facility meet the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge, as well as construction of a hydropower turbine connected to a currently inactive water line that extends to Lake Whatcom.

The port’s recommendation states Tollhouse/Zervas have proposed paying fair market value for the Granary, while providing required equity. It also states the partners are willing to consider alternative investments that could include unspecified on-site improvements.

Should the commission approve the recommendations on Feb. 18, port executive Rob Fix would begin negotiations to reach development agreements and establish conceptual plans for the site.

Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com.

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