Port's negotiation with Irish developer may face critics

Posted by JOHN STARK on February 18, 2014 

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

 

 

 

 

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service