Many seemed intrigued, but not ready to render a strong opinion about the proposed changes to the Waterfront District.
The Technology Alliance Group for Northwest Washington hosted an event this past Wednesday night at the nearly finished Granary Building. Part of the event was to kick off its Tech Summit festivities, but much of the discussion was around the waterfront as officials from Harcourt Developments, Port of Bellingham and the city answered questions about the former Georgia-Pacific property, which sits near the downtown core. More than 100 community members and technology company officials were at the event.
The biggest changes, first presented at a Port of Bellingham commission meeting this past Tuesday, involves the park, known unofficially as Bay or Serpentine. The October 2016 plan had the park snaking around the property from the Granary Building down to the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, creating a trail connection to Cornwall Beach.
The changes include altering the park design, having it cut across the property to the Whatcom Waterway. It’s the same amount of park acres dedicated to the property, but doesn’t have the same direct connection to the Granary Building. The changes also include saving the old alcohol plant as a future office building, creating a Bay Street extension/vista and putting in a larger building for either student housing or a retirement facility.
Bellingham City Council President Michael Lilliquist said it is too early for him to decide what he thinks of the changes and will be waiting for more details. His wants to make sure the public is guaranteed full access to their waterfront.
“I’m sure there is a better plan out there, but I’m not sure if this is it yet,” Lilliquist said.
It is important at this stage to give Harcourt the flexibility to make sure a project this big pencils out financially, said Guy Occhiogrosso, president and CEO of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry. He wants to make sure the developer has an opportunity to bring good jobs to the city, and he has some faith given the work that was done to refurbish the Granary Building.
“I’m excited about this building. They (Harcourt) did exactly what we asked,” Occhiogrosso said. “It has a lot of possibilities.”
Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville expressed support for the changes, saying she liked the previous work – but believed that was more of a vision and Harcourt was bound to make some changes.
“I’m happy that the developer wants to save more of the structures,” Linville said.
As for the park changes, the mayor said she still sees a lot of Serpentine park in the new drawing, particularly in connecting the area with nearby Cornwall Beach.
“They’ve all been improvements,” Linville said.
While the proposed changes are new to the public, the discussions about this has been evolving over many months, said Patrick Power, group property director for Harcourt, which is based in Ireland. The goal was to save as many of the remaining structures as possible and make a more direct connection to downtown – with the Bay Street extension proposal, it would go across Chestnut Street and end as a vista view, possibly on top of a parking garage. Visitors can park their cars in the garage and take the stairs or elevators down to the an urban plaza area on the property.
The proposed changes would need to be part of amendment to the waterfront district plan, which needs to be submitted to the city by April. It will need to go through a public process.
While the longer-term planning is still being worked out, two new projects are expected to get started in the coming weeks. Construction of the two mains streets into the waterfront district – Granary Avenue and Laurel Street – is scheduled to begin in November, while work on Waypoint Park near the Whatcom Waterway is set to begin in late November or early December.
GRANARY BUILDING UPDATE
Renovations to the Granary Building are expected to be completed in February, around the time Granary Avenue has made its possible to access that part of the property.
The building has already received quite a few inquiries, Power said. Food/beverage businesses and other retailers have been asking about the bottom floor, while commercial/office related businesses are asking about the upper floors, he said.
Power believes the public will start seeing some retail on the bottom floor by this spring or summer.