Port of Bellingham agrees to give developers a chance to save Granary


BELLINGHAM - The Port of Bellingham has agreed to offer the Granary Building to private developers interested in refurbishing the old structure, which had been targeted for demolition by port officials.

The Granary will be a part of the first parcel of port-owned real estate that will be offered to developers, probably in November or December 2012, said Lydia Bennett, the port's business development director, in a press release.

Developers can present the port with proposals for the site that may or may not include preservation of the Granary. Port Commission President Scott Walker said the proposals should help to clarify the question of whether the building can be put to new uses at a cost that makes economic sense.

"While this is not a guarantee that the Granary will be redeveloped, it does allow developers to evaluate it and determine if they can make the renovation pencil out," Walker said. "The port is not interested in subsidizing the building or waiting years to determine its outcome. But we are willing to offer it to developers to find out if they are interested in investing in the Granary."

The port commissioners agreed to change course on the Granary at their Aug. 21 meeting, after historic preservation advocates mustered public support for its preservation.

John Blethen, one of the leaders of the effort to save the Granary, said the port's announcement was good news.

"I believe that the Granary is important historically and culturally," he said in an email. "I think it could be another great place in Bellingham."

Bellingham architect Michael Smith said the Granary could be a unique opportunity.

"It is in a fantastic location, and can serve as a gateway to the redeveloped waterfront from downtown," Smith said. "You have the Whatcom Creek Waterway at your front door. Old Town and all the city envisions for this new urban village is also immediately adjacent. It is in a key location, between downtown and Old Town. A strong pedestrian linkage between the city center and the Granary already exists via Maritime Heritage Park. You could not ask for a better location to kick off the redeveloped waterfront."

He also noted that shoreline and likely master plan regulations would probably prohibit construction of any new building as big as the 100-foot-tall Granary at that location.

Another Granary advocate gave the port's action a mixed review.

"While we are pleased to see the Port of Bellingham has included the option to retain the Granary as part of its waterfront redevelopment, our hope was to see the Granary presented as a stand-alone project," said Chris Moore, field director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. "This would have increased the feasibility for a local developer - one who fully understands the historic significance and sense of place the Granary represents - to engage in rehabilitation."

Reach JOHN STARK at 715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics.

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