The Port of Bellingham has landed a major employer for the waterfront, but it took selling some property to get the deal done.
The Port Commission approved a plan Tuesday, Oct. 18, to have Itek Energy purchase a 48,000-square-foot warehouse and 2 acres of property at 800 Cornwall Ave. The purchase price for the former Georgia-Pacific property was around $1.7 million.
Itek is a solar panel manufacturer that has experienced significant growth since the company began full production in 2012. The company will move from its current location at 3886 Hammer Drive, tripling its space and adding new equipment and employees. The company has 95 employees in Bellingham and expects to hire 30 more after the waterfront facility is running. The company plans to be in the building by next spring, said Karl Unterschuetz, director of business development for Itek.
Along with getting some jobs on the waterfront to begin replacing the ones lost after GP closed, the deal will also mean more workers in the downtown core of Bellingham, said Shirley McFearin, director of real estate for the port. This reminds her of another real estate deal the port did years ago with a growing manufacturer.
“This feels a lot like Wood Stone,” McFearin said, referring to the deal that brought Wood Stone Corp. to its current facilities in 2000 near the Bellingham International Airport. That company has expanded several times since then, now occupying around 117,000 square feet of space.
Selling property or buildings is not a typical transaction for the Port of Bellingham. McFearin said this was a unique opportunity that the commission decided to approve after Itek expressed no interest in leasing a building.
If Itek were to decide to sell the building, the Port of Bellingham has the right to match any bona fide offer, McFearin said.
Unterschuetz said the company was interested in buying rather than leasing because it is making a huge capital investment and wanted some predictability in its location. Itek is spending about $4 million in new equipment and $2 million in building improvements, which will increase production capacity five times compared with the current facility. It’s a key step for the company as it expands into other national and global markets.
Along with the expansion, Unterschuetz said Itek is excited about the transportation advantages. The truck traffic layout is good, but this also gives the company an opportunity of using rail and ships. The company sees some potential of shipping panels to Alaska, for example.
This is part of what’s expected to be a busy time on the waterfront. Earlier this month the port finished the environmental cleanup work on 19 acres of property. The first road, park and commercial building of waterfront redevelopment are expected to be completed in the next year. All American Marine is expected to move into its $10 million manufacturing facility in early 2017.