Port of Bellingham calls for Waterfront District development plans

Come summer, we might have a better idea of the potential that developers see in Bellingham’s future Waterfront District.

The Port of Bellingham issued a “request for proposals” on Wednesday, May 15, for a 10.8-acre portion of the central waterfront property formerly home to a Georgia Pacific pulp and paper mill.The request offers three parcels of land for redevelopment proposals near Bellingham’s current downtown district that are expected to be zoned for mixed use in a subarea plan still under consideration by port officials and planners with the city of Bellingham.

The request includes an offer to redevelop the waterfront’s much beloved, yet long abandoned, Granary Building, which has been a source of controversy since the port suggested last year that the structure might not be fit to save.

According to the request, the building is being offered for sale by the port for adaptive reuse.

One local development group already presented a plan in October 2012 to remodel the Granary and turn it into a mixed-use building, with offices, restaurants and apartments, for an estimated cost of $5 million to $6 million. John Blethen, a member of the group, has said the development proposal would only be feasible if the Granary was offered as a stand-alone deal, and not lumped in with surrounding land on the property.

Port officials say they will consider proposals for the building that “meet the Waterfront District goals for this area and that would be financially viable without a Port subsidy,” according to a press release.

The three parcels selected for this development request were chosen due to their proximity to Bellingham’s downtown, according to the port. Connecting the new Waterfront District and the downtown area has been identified as a key goal of the waterfront development project.

Responses to the request for proposals are due by Wednesday, July 10.

The request can be viewed on the port’s website at www.portofbellingham.com/WaterfrontRFP.

The following Q-and-A on the request for proposals is provided courtesy of the Port of Bellingham:

What is the Request for Proposals?
A solicitation for developers interested in being: the master developer for the initial 10.8-acre site adjacent to Downtown Bellingham, the developer in undertaking the adaptive reuse of the Granary Building, or a project specific developer for a project within the 10.8-acre site.

What is the timing in connection with current master planning process?
The Port and City agree that attracting a developer or developers at this stage is important because we want to get their input before the final plans are adopted. Complicated infill and brownfield projects like this are most successful when developers are part of the team to ensure a final plan works well for the new development.

What property is being offered now?

The land area available through this RFP comprises approximately 10.83 total developable acres of land in the Downtown Area of the Waterfront District.  The entire District is 237 acres. The 10.83 acres can be broken down into three (3) development areas

– Parcel 1:  a 6.7-acre development area generally located between the Roeder Avenue viaduct and the future Granary / Bloedel Avenue

– Parcel 2:  a 3.6-acre development area generally located west of the future Bloedel Avenue, adjacent to the Whatcom Waterway; and

– Parcel 3:  a 0.63 acre site under and supporting the Granary Building.

Will the developer be required to take the Granary Building?

The Port will give preference to respondents proposing to serve as Master Developer for the Parcel 1 and Parcel 2 development areas (see above), however will also consider proposals for development of smaller parcels within these larger sites if those proposals support a master development.  The Granary Building – Parcel 3 – may be pursued by respondents either in tandem with or independent from the rest of the Initial Development Opportunity.

What is the expected zoning for the Downtown Area property?

The draft subarea plan now being reviewed by the City’s Planning Commission proposes the Downtown Area of the site be zoned for mixed use development with an urban level of density.

How will the Port choose a developer?

The Port will have a selection committee that will include representation from the City, the Port, the County, Western Washington University and our development consultants. This committee will evaluate the RFP responses to determine: the capacity and ability of the developer, the development concept, the proposed financing plan, and the proposed transaction itself. Then the committee will make a recommendation to the Port Commission. Ultimately, the Commission will be charged with approving the selection and all transactions.

The goals for the type of development concept are:

– Encompasses most or all of the Initial Development Opportunity.

– Defines phasing plan for investment and project build-out, including criterion and/or factors that will be used to activate each phase.

– Strives to achieve a high level of sustainability, not only for individual buildings, but on a Waterfront District-wide level.

– Strives for enduring and high-quality job creation.

– Seeks to hide parking by minimizing surface parking and employing approaches to place it in structures, below grade, or wrapping/tucking it with pedestrian friendly uses.

– Demonstrates pedestrian orientation and provides and enhances coordination and connectivity both among individual uses in the Waterfront District and between the Waterfront District, Old Town, Downtown, and other surrounding areas.

Will the community have a say in this? 

The Port will keep the community informed about the selection process and will share information as it is available. Some parts of the real estate negotiations will occur in private, but approvals of any transactions will be public.

Will the property be sold or leased? 

The Port will evaluate the responses we receive and will look at the entire transaction in evaluating whether the property should be sold or developed with a long-term lease. The final decision will be made by the Port Commission and will be dependent upon the real estate transaction proposed by the developer.

What about the Granary Building? 

The Request for Proposals includes an offering for redevelopment of this building. The Port will consider proposals that meet the Waterfront District goals for this area and that will be financially viable without a Port subsidy.  The Granary Building could proceed independently of the development of Parcels 1 and 2, however it must have a timeline for development that precedes the master development because it is the entry to the Waterfront District.

Will local developers get special consideration? 

All proposals will be equally treated. This is a legal requirement and it also makes the best sense for this project. We are seeking the best developments and developers for this site and welcome all developers who have an interest in our community and in this project.

Will the public get to see all of the responses? 

The responses to the RFP will be public documents.

How quickly will a developer be selected? 

The Port will receive proposals in mid-July and anticipates the evaluation and review of these proposals will take about a month. If all goes according to the schedule, a preferred developer or developers would be announced by the end of the summer. After that an exclusive negotiations period would begin and would take about four or five months to complete.

Evan Marczynski, lead reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com

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