Old Town project could dovetail with Granary redevelopment

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 27, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - The Bellingham architect hoping to redevelop the Granary Building on the waterfront says he is enthusiastic about the Bellingham Public Development Authority's project planned for a site on the bluff across the railroad tracks from the historic building.

Michael Smith of Zervas Group Architects was among those who got a guided tour of the development authority's project site Wednesday, Feb. 26. During the tour, authority Executive Director Jim Long explained his vision of a hotel and parking garage along West Holly Street, including a plaza built over the railroad tracks to link up with the Granary area. Smith said that would be ideal.

"If they are successful in negotiating the overpass over the railroad, the landing point is right next to the Granary," Smith said. "You can't beat that."

Long and the city-funded development authority have put together an agreement with five private property owners that, combined with city-owned property, creates a 2.5-acre site that could be offered to a private developer. The property is located along the west side of Holly Street between Bay Street and Central Avenue.

Because the 2.5 acres includes a city-owned parcel once meant for a never-built Army Street, it has been known as the Army Street Project.

Long said the site has room for an 800-space parking garage below ground level that would be big enough to serve the hotel and surrounding commercial areas. Besides the hotel, the project could include residences, commercial and office space around the pedestrian plaza over Roeder Avenue and BNSF Railway Co. tracks to Port of Bellingham property.

Long has had informal conversations with Harcourt Developments Ltd., the Dublin-based development firm that is now negotiating with the port on a possible deal to redevelop the 11-acre site that includes the Granary, and Harcourt officials see the authority's plans as complementary to their own. Long contended that the Granary area would be isolated if it is not linked to downtown and Old Town by the development that he envisions.

"They (Harcourt) see it as an integrated part of what they would do," Long said. "You gain nothing by being part of an isolated property on the other side of Chestnut. ... The Granary will be a functional part of our project. We like that."

The port is encouraging Harcourt to work with architect Smith and his group on the Granary project.

Smith agrees that Long's proposal could play a key role in linking the waterfront with downtown and Old Town.

"It really is kind of a hinge point for everything," Smith said.

But if the Army Street Project never gets off the launch pad, Smith believes the Granary and surrounding area still could develop successfully on its own, due to its desirable waterfront location.

Smith's Granary plan involves a possible basement-level hydropower generator that would use water from the industrial water main built to carry untreated water from Lake Whatcom to waterfront industries. Bellingham-based Tollhouse Energy would build the generator, if it proves feasible.

But the generator is just a small part the revived Granary that Smith expects to achieve. He said he has already recruited tenants for restaurant and coffee shop spaces on the main floor, and office tenants on upper floors. The plan also includes apartments that Smith expects to rent quickly once they are built.

Smith said Harcourt's people see his project as jump-starting the redevelopment of the surrounding area that Harcourt hopes to lead.

"One successful project will breed more," Smith said.

If the deal-making process with the port and Harcourt go smoothly, Smith said work could begin on the Granary's exterior before the end of 2014, and he's impatient to get started.

"We had hoped to be under construction by now," Smith said.

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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