Port expects Bellingham waterfront proposals by mid-July

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 15, 2013 

The Port of Bellingham is asking for developers to submit proposals for 10.8 acres of waterfront property in the area of the Granary Building.

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - Prospects for a central waterfront renaissance should be clear by mid-July, when the Port of Bellingham expects to receive serious proposals from developers interested in a 10.8-acre portion of the site in and around the Granary building next to Whatcom Waterway.

On Wednesday, May 15, port officials sent out a 30-page "request for proposals" to developers, who have until July 10 to provide their plans for waterfront projects, as well as evidence of their financial ability to carry out those plans. That includes the money to buy or lease waterfront development sites from the port at market rates.

Interested developers have been invited to submit proposals for all or part of the 10.8 acre portion at the northeast end of the 237-acre waterfront site, much of which was formerly occupied by the Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and paper mill.

The Granary, a 1920s-vintage structure that historic preservation advocates hope to save, could be redeveloped as a stand-alone project or as part of a larger complex.

If all goes according to plan, the port will have a broad selection of proposals that will be evaluated by a committee with representatives from the city, Whatcom County and Western Washington University. The committee will recommend a developer or developers to the three port commissioners, who will make the final decision.

That could occur as soon as early fall. The proposals also will be public documents for community review.

But any deal with chosen developers won't be final until a binding agreement is negotiated between the developers and the port. That could be done by the end of 2013.

Port Executive Director Rob Fix said the port is not obligated to accept any of the proposals and would go back to the drawing board if no suitable ones are made.

"I'm hoping it doesn't come to that," Fix said.

The Bellingham City Council has yet to approve the master plan and new zoning for the site. But port and city officials still say now is the time to get developers on board, to give those developers a chance to have their say before the waterfront master plan and site plans are completed.

"The port is very intentionally endeavoring to secure a developer partner now so that final plans for public investments in parks, infrastructure, and environmental cleanup on this unique shoreline brownfield site can benefit from a developer's perspective and coordination," says the port's request for developer proposals.

The document submitted to developers assumes that the 10.8 acre site being made available eventually will be zoned for mixed-use, with heavy urban densities and buildings as high as 200 feet.

Fix said he won't expect developers to commit to a deal until the planning process is complete, but city review of the master plan can take place while the port is negotiating a deal with developers.

The city doesn't expect to finish street connections to the site until mid-2016.

Port officials got an early foretaste of interest in the property in January 2013 after nine developers responded to a preliminary port request for ideas about what they might like to do with the Granary and the acreage around it. The responses came from local and regional developers as well as national and multinational developers.

Some expressed enthusiasm about reuse of the Granary; others were skeptical about whether it could be saved.

Port officials had once argued that saving the building made little sense, but after a public outcry, port commissioners agreed to reconsider. There are some conditions: The port has no plans to subsidize the Granary rehab, and port officials say a Granary developer must be ready and willing to give the building a makeover in the early stages of area redevelopment, because the building stands at the gateway to the waterfront district.

The timing of when the city of Bellingham would finish street connections to the waterfront site was corrected at 4 p.m. May 15, 2013.

Reach JOHN STARK at john.stark@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2274.

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