Bellingham council postpones decision on development authority

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 18, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - The future of the Bellingham Public Development Authority and its ambitious 2.5-acre Holly Street redevelopment plan will remain in doubt for at least one more week.

City Council members voted unanimously to postpone any decision on the authority and the plan until Nov. 25, when the council expects to discuss Executive Director James Long's proposal to spend an estimated $1.1 million in 2014 on preliminary studies to determine the feasibility of the real estate project.

As Long sees it, the city already has the money in hand, in the form of the unspent $1.2 million proceeds from the 2011 sale of a city-owned lot at 1100 Cornwall Ave. that was originally purchased with city parking revenues.

It remains to be seen if a majority of council members will agree to spend that money on Long's proposal, or if they will prefer to hang onto it for use on other parking projects.

At a Monday, Nov. 18, council committee session, Long explained the complex agreement he has worked out with five private landowners along the west side of Holly Street between Bay Street and Central Avenue. Combined with city-owned real estate on the same block, the deal would create a 2.5-acre site that could be offered to a private developer.

The property owners signing onto the deal are Trillium Corp., George Dyson, Wright Angle LLC, MacDonald Trust and Thornburg Trust.

Long says the site could accommodate an 800-space parking garage below ground level, with a hotel, residences, commercial and office space arranged around a pedestrian plaza that would provide a walkway over Roeder Avenue and BNSF Railway Co. tracks to the Port of Bellingham property around the Granary building.

Most council members were silent on the project and its need for additional city funding, but council members Michael Lilliquist and Jack Weiss expressed strong support.

"This could be a major new direction for downtown," Lilliquist said. "If this pays off it will pay off enormous dividends, not just for the private investors but for the city. ... Each parcel individually is less valuable than we are together."

Weiss noted that in late 2012, when the council voted 4-3 to provide enough money to keep the development authority in operation for 2013, the council also set specific expectations for what Long was expected to accomplish during the year.

"You met all of your deadlines," Weiss said. "It's really up to us to finish this approval process and get this thing going, and I hope we can do that."

If the council does approve the 2014 spending that Long proposes on Nov. 25, they would then be in a position to approve the agreement with the other Holly Street property owners.

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

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