Old Town development plan involving Bellingham property moving ahead

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 21, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - In the next few weeks, the Public Development Authority will be moving ahead on preliminary studies to lay the groundwork for a bold redevelopment project along the west side of Holly Street between Bay Street and Central Avenue.

At a Tuesday, Jan. 21, meeting of the PDA board, Executive Director Jim Long told board members that he expects a contractor to begin work on surveys and mapping of the 2.5-acre site by mid-February. Investigation of environmental issues and geotechnical conditions should start by early March.

Long said he is at work seeking and evaluating proposals from contractors interested in doing these jobs.

The work will be paid for with a portion of the $550,000 PDA appropriation that City Council approved for 2014. Long estimated that the mapping and surveying will cost about $50,000, with another $75,000 for the environmental and geotechnical studies.

Then, if the studies don't turn up any show-stoppers, the PDA will hire a firm or firms to do economic and market analysis for the project. Long's vision includes an 800-space parking garage below ground level, with a hotel, residences, and commercial and office space arranged around a pedestrian plaza that would provide a walkway over Roeder Avenue and BNSF Railway Co. tracks to Port of Bellingham property.

Long has a preliminary agreement with five private property owners that, combined with city-owned property, creates a 2.5-acre site on Holly Street that could be offered to a private developer. Long told the board that the economic and market research will be a key element to attract private interest.

The goal is to generate profit for both the city and the private partners with a project that would connect downtown and Old Town with the redeveloping waterfront area around the Granary Building, according to Long's concept.

"It's a $100 million project," Long said.

Mayor Kelli Linville has been skeptical about the project, but a majority of City Council members have been willing to continue city financial support.

Board member Ken Hertz told his colleagues he has had a tough time recruiting people who would be interested in filling the two vacant spots on the seven-member PDA board, partly because of the uncertainty about long-term city support.

Hertz said the prospective board members he has talked to have said, "Don't put my name into something that's going to be a dead-end street."

Board Chairman Scot Barq told Hertz he had discussed the vacancies with Linville and she had assured him she would approve qualified nominees for the two spots if the board submits them.

Hertz said he thought it would be a good idea for board members to sit down with Linville for a "heart-to-heart."

"Filling the vacancy is one thing," said Hertz, himself a former mayor. "Securing the future is another."

SEE THE MAP

For more information and a map of the proposed Army Street Project, go to this bellinghampda.org webpage.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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