The Bellingham Herald recently reported that downtown merchants fear that the development of the Bellingham waterfront could contribute to the further demise of the downtown. With good reason: Bellis Fair mall opened in 1988 with a mass exit by downtown's national-brand stores. More recently, CH2M Hill and Guiseppe's left downtown for the Bellwether. The waterfront redevelopment planning documents support the same sort of predatory practices, aiming at retail establishments, residences, restaurants, hotels and personal services.
The interests of the city and the port in waterfront development are not identical. The city must assure that waterfront development does not occur at the expense of the downtown, while the port is looking for tenants for its properties regardless of the effects on the downtown. Are we willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars building infrastructure on the waterfront while we watch the downtown vanish?
Marine-related activities must be prioritized for this scarce waterfront resource. Marine trades, a fishing industry, a shipping terminal and light industrial firms make sense for the waterfront. These types of businesses yield the living-wage jobs that Bellingham residents desperately need. Locate new retail enterprises, restaurants, and personal services in other neighborhoods, not on scarce waterfront property.