Waterfront Granary Building closer to teardown as opponents seek chance at rehab

The Port of Bellingham is moving forward with plans to dismantle the historic waterfront Granary Building, though questions remain over how expensive it would be to rehabilitate the towering, decrepit structure.

On June 5, port commissioners approved the hiring of Seattle consulting firm ICF International to identify historically valuable artifacts from the building, which is located on the former site of the Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper mill.

Viable artifacts could be removed and incorporated into future Waterfront District redevelopment projects as part of an effort to mitigate the loss of the site’s historic resources.

Historical preservationists have not responded favorably to the dismantling plan.

Rod Burton, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, said he would like to see the building remain and be put to new use.

“The Granary Building represents an important part of history for Whatcom County, and I think for the port it represents an opportunity,” Burton told commissioners.

The port and the city of Bellingham entered an Interlocal Agreement in 2005 to develop a master plan and an environmental impact assessment for the waterfront property.

Part of the plan included preserving and restoring a number of historical industrial structures on the site, some built during the early 20th Century.

However, analysis of redevelopment costs has shown some of these plans may not be possible.

Port officials based their decision to bring down the Granary Building on a 2009 report by Johnson Architects, which showed remodeling costs required to bring the building up to code would greatly limit redevelopment potential.

According to the report, it would cost nearly $14 million to rehabilitate the building—about $533 per square foot.

The port estimates it will cost about $500,000 to dismantle the structure.

“We’re learning that these buildings are very very difficult and essentially economically unfeasible to redevelop,” said Adam Fulton, a port engineer, during the June 5 commission meeting.

The Granary Building dismantling plan was first made public during a May 3 joint meeting of the port commission and the Bellingham City Council.

Commissioner Jim Jorgensen said in the month since the early May meeting, he’s heard concerns from constituents that the cost figures of the building’s rehabilitation may not be accurate.

Other studies on the building have generated different rehabilitation numbers. A 2004 report from RMC Architects showed the costs could actually be less than $200 per square foot.

Jorgensen said he’d like more opportunities to gather public comments on the dismantling proposal before the plan goes forward.

Commissioner Michael McAuley said he based his decision to vote in favor of dismantling largely on the Johnson report. But with other analyses showing different figures, he said he’d now like better vetting of the process to reach a final conclusion.

“I think there’s some questions raised that people have come to me with, so I want more research on this,” McAuley said.

Others are more eager to see the structure go.

Commission president Scott Walker said nearly everyone he’s spoken with about the decision favors taking down the Granary Building due to its current unattractive state and the fact it blocks a potential new entryway to the waterfront.

He said he didn’t believe the building can be brought back to life in a way that would be cost-effective and wouldn’t obstruct other redevelopment projects in the Waterfront District planned over the next few years.

“I don’t think that anybody could get this ready for reuse in two years,” Walker said. “I can’t believe that.”

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