Port of Bellingham ready to review Waterfront District proposals

As deliberations on the city’s Waterfront District master plan continue, the Port of Bellingham is ready to parse development proposals for a section of the future shoreline quarter.

Eight developers, including a mix of local, national and international interests, have submitted responses to the port’s official request for waterfront proposals that was released May 15. The request offers a 10.8-acre piece of property surrounding the historic waterfront Granary Building, where the first phase of redevelopment on a total of 237 acres of former industrial land is expected to take place.

The responses—which include proposals to take the role of “master developer” for the entire site, standalone projects for the Granary Building, as well as additional proposals for a hotel and an affordable-housing complex—were made public during a July 16 meeting of the port’s elected commission, which will approve final selections.

Throughout August, Port Executive Rob Fix, Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville, Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws and Steve Swan, the vice president of university relations at Western Washington University, will review proposals and interview developers, said Carolyn Casey, the port’s director of external affairs.

That group will make recommendations to the port commission.

Casey said the initial reviews and interviews should be complete in time for port commissioners to receive an update by Aug. 20, during their next public meeting.

With the process just starting—Casey likened the current stage to the “beginning of a conversation”—development details are limited. The eight proposals focus mainly on general visions and developer capabilities. The waterfront site is not expected to be ready for new development for several more years.

Though it is possible that selections could be made by early fall 2013, Casey said, a firm timeline for the process has not been set.

“We want to be able to be flexible and nimble, and respond to what we see in this interview process,” Casey said.

Additionally, Casey added, no waterfront development can actually happen until a master plan for the site is approved by the port commission and the Bellingham City Council, which is set to begin its own waterfront planning talks this month with a goal of approving a master plan by the end of the year.

Casey said the commencement of any potential project hinges on adoption of the site’s master plan.

Three firms have submitted proposals to assume the role of master developer for the entire site offered by the port in its request. The proposals vary in scope and focus, but all call for mixed-use development, including new office space, housing, parks and room for marine business.

The developers include:

– Harcourt Developments Limited of Ireland, along with local partner Tin Rock Development Inc. One of Harcourt’s notable projects is the Titanic Quarter on the site of the former Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, where the famous yet ill-fated ocean liner was built in the early 20th Century.

– Williams/Dame and Associates of Portland, Ore., with partner Loci Inc. This group’s past work includes several redevelopment projects in Portland, including in the city’s Pearl District and South Waterfront District.

– David Ebenal of Bellingham, under the company name Viking Development LLC. Ebenal has completed a number of developments in Bellingham, including Bellwether Gate and the Waldron Young Building in Fairhaven.

The Granary Building, located at the intersection of Roeder Avenue, Central Avenue and Chestnut Street, also has three developers interested in its redevelopment.

The 1920s-era structure is seen by many as a historical icon of Bellingham’s waterfront. Once marked for demolition due to its decrepit state, the Granary was saved last year after the port commission reversed course following public outcry to keep the building.

The proposals for the building’s redevelopment share similarities, but each also has unique elements:

– Quay Property Management, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, seeks to create a public market in the building, along with restaurants and office space. Quay has developed similar markets in B.C.

Quay’s proposal says the company would place an emphasis on attracting local business tenants. It also suggests outdoor space surrounding the building would be used for a pedestrian promenade and an entertainment venue.

– A proposal from Tollhouse Energy Company, along with Zervas Group Architects, both from Bellingham, features a fish market, in addition to restaurants, offices and residential units. The Tollhouse/Zervas group proposes a project that will meet the Living Building Challenge, an eco-friendly design certification considered to be one of the most rigorous in the green-building field.

The proposal also includes plans to extend a currently inactive water line—once used by Georgia Pacific to carry water from Lake Whatcom—and connect it to a hydropower turbine capable of generating up to two megawatts of electricity. In addition to supplying enough electricity to power the equivalent of more than 2,000 homes, the waste heat from the turbine could heat the Granary year-round, according to the proposal.

– A plan from a Bellingham-based group led by developers James Willson and John Blethen emphasizes office and business use over residential units in the Granary. Several eco-friendly building elements are also part of the proposal: a partial green roof, solar voltaic panels and rainwater storage to be used for the building’s grey water and irrigation systems. The proposal also features plans for a fish market.

Blethen presented an architectural illustration of his group’s plans for the Granary during a port commission meeting in fall 2012.

Aside from the master developer proposals and visions for the Granary, the Bellingham Housing Authority has expressed interest to work with the future master developer to build a 100-unit affordable housing complex on the site.

Sycan B Corp. and InnSight Hotel Management Group, both from Springfield, Ore., has also submitted a response wishing to work with a master developer to build a new waterfront hotel.

Discussions between port commissioners and port staff during the July 16 meeting focused mainly on the interview and review process. But when it came to selecting developers, commissioners appeared to favor quick movement.

“I think you have an aggressive schedule, and I think you need to keep it,” Commissioner Scott Walker told Port Executive Rob Fix.

On the Granary Building, Commissioner Michael McAuley said he wants to see redevelopment start as soon as possible. He noted the existing damage to the building’s roof, and said repair and rebuilding needs to start quickly before winter weather hits later in the year.

“I don’t think we need to wait until fall 2013 to decide on that,” McAuley said.

But there was disagreement on that point from Walker and Fix.

Fix said that securing a master developer first will allow port staff to get valuable insight before making a choice on the Granary.

Walker felt that whomever is chosen as the master developer should get some say, or at least awareness, of any decision regarding the building.

“I think you have to play this out on all of the parcels,” Walker said.

View the eight development proposals at the Port of Bellingham’s website.

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

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