Port of Bellingham commissioners voted unanimously on July 15 to enter a second 120-day negotiation period with Harcourt Developments Limited over the future of the city’s central waterfront.
The port is evaluating whether Dublin-based Harcourt will become the lead developer for a 10.8 acre slice of the 237-acre former industrial waterfront at the west edge of downtown.
Rob Fix, Port of Bellingham executive director, said the port and Harcourt will likely sign “some sort of definitive agreement” by the end of the negotiation period.
“We may not have all the details ironed out by then because it’s a complicated transaction,” Fix said. “But we’ll know for certain whether we’re going to be going forward with them.”
The port and Harcourt would likely proceed with the project as a joint-venture, but the details haven’t been worked out yet. The project is complicated because of environmental contamination, underground structures and other factors, Fix said.
Harcourt plans to partner with Bellingham-based Tin Rock Developments Inc.
During the second negotiation period, Fix said the port will make sure the city and Harcourt can agree on street alignment, get Western Washington University and Harcourt talking, and further discuss the historic granary building, which is included in the initial 10.8-acre development. Currently, Harcourt intends to retain the original granary and the board mill buildings, Fix said.
“They intend to make these very distinctive, iconic projects,” he said.
Also in the next 120 days, Harcourt and the port will negotiate a development schedule, a purchase price for the land, and performance criteria for Harcourt’s work. They will also discuss the possibility of Harcourt developing a second 10-acre section of the waterfront.
“One of the things we’ve told them all along is that in order to get to that second 10 acres, they have to perform on the first 10 acres,” Fix said. “They’d like to do a lot more than I think we’re comfortable letting them do at first.”
Harcourt’s conceptual drawing for the initial 10.8-acre redevelopment project include a mix of residential and commercial buildings, and 6 or 7 acres of parks, port officials said at the July 15 port meeting.
Fix said he expects Harcourt representatives will visit Bellingham late this summer. Currently, the port and Harcourt have at least one phone conversation about the project per week.
Harcourt Developments is currently in a lawsuit over a development project on the island of Jersey, a British Crown Dependency in the English Channel. Harcourt is suing the Jersey Development Company, which is owned by the States of Jersey, for money spent on work carried out before Jersey terminated Harcourt’s contract, according to the Jersey Evening Post.
Fix said the port is aware of the lawsuit. The port gave Harcourt a list of questions about the conflict, and Harcourt is compiling answers, Fix said.
“There’s not a developer out there that hasn’t had a lawsuit,” he said. “We’re not going to go forward with a company that’s highly litiguous. We don’t believe they are.”
During the first 120-day negotiation period, which ended July 3, the port educated Harcourt on the timing of cleanup activities, the port and city’s master plan for the waterfront, the city’s responsibility regarding roads and infrastructure, and Western Washington University’s presence on the waterfront, Fix said.
The port and Harcourt began negotiating in February. The port and city have been discussing redeveloping the waterfront for more than a decade.
“We’d love to see a building on the site in three years,” Fix said. “I think we’re going to be disappointed if we don’t see one on the site in five years.”