At today's Port of Bellingham commission meeting, commissioners will be asked to approve the start of negotiations with Harcourt Developments Limited, a Dublin-based firm best known for a huge Belfast project that includes a Titanic museum on the site of a shipyard where the ill-fated ocean liner was built.
Although today's action will begin, not end, negotiations, and the amount of waterfront real estate involved is just shy of 11 acres out of more than 200, commissioners can expect some pointed comments when the meeting begins at 3 p.m. at port headquarters, 1801 Roeder Ave.
Over the weekend, civic activists were complaining on social media about the port staff's tentative choice of Harcourt for this first phase of development. Among other things, they focused on the lawsuit that was filed against Harcourt in connection with the Sullivan Square apartment and condo project in Las Vegas.
A Las Vegas company that partnered with Harcourt on that project filed suit against Harcourt in 2008, alleging that Harcourt had withheld promised financing for the megaproject while demanding a bigger share of project equity. Based on a variety of online news reports, Harcourt filed a counterclaim, alleging that the Las Vegas company had overstated advance condo sales for the project, leading Harcourt to withhold capital.
According to online court records, the case was close to a trial in 2011 when the parties apparently settled. Sullivan Square has not been built.
But Harcourt still listed the project in its proposal submitted to the port in summer 2013. Check out page 22. Harcourt uses future tense in the proposal, and does not claim that the project is complete.
Harcourt's proposal includes a sweeping master plan for the entire waterfront district, submitted before the port and City Council completed work on the waterfront master plan. Harcourt has since submitted a followup letter indicating their willingness to work within the confines of that plan, and to undertake the 11-acre initial phase of the project rather than the whole district.
Whatcom County-based Tin Rock Development is expected to be part of Harcourt's venture if the negotiations with the port lead to a contract. Any such contract will also come before commissioners for a vote, and for public scrutiny.
Read the port commission agenda packet here, outlining the process that port staffers used in deciding on Harcourt. City, Whatcom County and Western Washington University officials were involved in the selection process.
Newsroom Poet Laureate Dean Kahn has offered a limerick that says all of the above in five taut lines of verse:
An Irish firm with a museum Titanic
Will try to make our waterfront dynamic
Folks at the Port of Bellingham
Hope Harcourt Development’s no sham
Lest city folks’ fears turn to panic