Bellingham waterfront proposals have local, regional and global flair

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 17, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - The Port of Bellingham will be able to draw on local, regional and international perspectives as it begins the process of selecting a developer for The Waterfront District.

Port of Bellingham staff presented eight different proposals at the port commissioners' meeting Tuesday, July 16. The proposals were focused on the first phase, a 10.8-acre parcel around the Granary building. Three of those eight proposals were for the overall project; three were for the Granary Building and two were for specific buildings.

The three developers that submitted proposals for the overall 10.8 acre project are Harcourt Developments Limited, an Ireland-based international developer, working with Bellingham-based Tin Rock Developments Inc.; Williams/Dame & Associates, known for redeveloping the Pearl District in Portland, Ore.; and Bellingham's Ebenal General, which has developed buildings on Bellwether Way and in Fairhaven.

"I'm pleased we received three proposals and it's great that it includes local, regional and international developers," said Rob Fix, executive director at the port.

This request for proposals is the first phase of eventually revamping 237 acres of industrial waterfront property. Most of the 237 acres was home to Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp, chemical and tissue operations that shut down in 2007.

"Large-scale urban land redevelopment projects like the Waterfront District are uniquely complicated in that they require a long-term commitment by a large team," said Matt Anderson of Heartland LLC, which helped the port in gathering the proposals. "In this case we have a good mix of master and project-specific proposals that we're confident will give us the flexibility needed to deliver an initial phase that optimizes the port and community objectives."

Since this is still early in the process - the site isn't expected to be ready for development beyond infrastructure for two years - the three master developer proposals did not get into specifics of what they would do with the parcel. Much of the proposals discussed what the firms are capable of doing. Perhaps more interesting to the port and the community is the background of these developers:

• Harcourt Developments Limited has handled a variety of large-scale waterfront developments, including the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Formerly a shipyard, the first phase of the 300-acre project is complete and has added 475 residential units, a college campus, offices and a 122-room hotel. Future phases will include four more hotels and a financial services center.

• Williams/Dame & Associates, which is partnering with Loci Inc., has worked on a variety of projects in Portland, including redeveloping portions of the Pearl District and the South Waterfront District. Williams/Dame is also redeveloping the South Park area of Los Angeles, putting in several LEED-certified condominiums totaling more than 700 units.

• David Ebenal, submitting the proposal under the entity Viking Development LLC, completed three buildings known as Bellwether Gate on Bellwether Way in the midst of an economic downturn. The three completed buildings total 112,000 square feet of office and retail space, and he is moving forward with plans to build a fourth building on Bellwether Way. Ebenal also has remodeled the Waldron Young Building and built Fairhaven Gardens and Fairhaven Heights.

Ebenal has been involved in disputes on some local projects, including Western Washington University's Buchanan Towers residence hall. Ebenal was originally awarded the project, but it was taken over by Western and finished by another contractor when the project wasn't completed on time in August 2010. Ebenal said the delays were caused by numerous change orders.

When it comes to the overall 10.8-acre project proposals, a key goal is making sure no infrastructure is "stranded," or everything that the city plans to put in is used, said Carolyn Casey, director of external affairs for the port.

Fix agreed, adding that both sides will need to express their needs during negotiations to make sure the project is a success.

GRANARY BUILDING DRAWS INTEREST

The Granary Building on Roeder Avenue was originally slated to be demolished but has drawn interest in the community to be reused, resulting in two local proposals and one from a Canadian company:

• Quay Property Management of Vancouver, B.C. has developed a variety of public markets in the province, including in North Vancouver and Nanaimo. The company proposes to create a public market with the building, along with dining and office space.

• Local developers James Willson and John Blethen have proposed a fish market, retail, restaurant and office uses for the building in their proposal. The submission has a variety of environmentally friendly elements, including a partial green roof, solar panels and infrastructure to store rainwater.

• Tollhouse Energy Company and Zervas Group Architects, both based in Bellingham, have proposed a fish market, restaurant and office/residential space. They also proposed using the nearby 48-inch water line that was used by G-P to draw water from Lake Whatcom and connect it to a hydropower turbine. According to the proposal, this would generate two megawatts of energy, equivalent to powering more than 2,000 homes. That electricity could then be used to provide power to the waterfront.

The two other project proposals would be to work with the master developer in putting in 100 units of affordable housing, as well as hotel development.

Port and city staff will evaluate the proposals to determine the technical and financial capacity of the developers to help determine the best candidate. Representatives from the city, county and Western Washington University will be involved with the port in interviewing the candidates at the end of July.

By this fall, the port commissioners will receive the information from staff and make a decision on whether to authorize negotiations with selected development firms. Fix said the negotiation period is when details about costs and financing would be discussed, as well as clear benchmarks on when projects need to be completed.

"I think you have an aggressive schedule, and I think you should keep to it," said Port Commissioner Scott Walker after hearing the presentation. He noted that it's been a long process to get to this point, and he's ready to move forward.

The Bellingham City Council is expected to vote on the master plan in November.

MORE INFO

• From noon to 1:30 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 17, Bellingham city staff and Port of Bellingham staff will be in the lobby of City Hall, 210 Lottie St., to discuss the Waterfront District master plan proposal and answer questions at an informational open house.

• To see the proposals submitted for the Waterfront District, go to this Port of Bellingham webpage.

The name of the Ireland-based development company was corrected July 17, 2013.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his business blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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