Granary advocates offer $5 million renovation plan

BELLINGHAM - Architects and would-be developers have presented Port of Bellingham commissioners with a vision of a redeveloped Granary Building that they say could be achieved with $5 million in private investment.

At the Tuesday, Oct. 2, commissoners' meeting, real estate developer John Blethen offered an artist's rendering of what a restored Granary might look like on a redeveloped waterfront. Blethen and partner James Willson envision the Granary as the anchor at the northern end of a waterfront pedestrian corridor that could stretch all the way to Fairhaven.

Blethen asked commissioners not to tie the Granary Building to the adjoining 10 acres of port-owned real estate, forcing a developer to take on the entire parcel in order to acquire the Granary.

"This (Granary) is a $5 million project and it's doable," Blethen said. "Ten acres is going to need somebody with a lot of money."

Rob Fix, the port's interim executive director, told Blethen that the port's request for proposals from developers would be flexible, and that interested developers can offer redevelopment plans for the entire site including the Granary, or for the Granary as a separate project.

Fix said he expected the request for proposals to be ready for developers' scrutiny by the end of November.

Bellingham architect Michael Smith hopes to be part of a team that would submit a redevelopment proposal for the Granary to the port in the next few weeks or months. He told commissioners that he envisions converting the tower portion of the old structure into "six very, very unique high-end apartments."

The adjoining two-story portion of the building could contain offices on the second floor and retail or restaurants on the first floor, Smith said.

If the building can be rendered usable with $5 million worth of repairs and retrofits, it could be rented out at a profit at prevailing downtown rates, Smith said.

"It's going to be a fantastic addition to the city, to the port and to the waterfront," Smith said.

Smith also urged commissioners to allow the Granary to be developed as a stand-alone project that would be within the financial reach of local developers.

Another architect, Dave Christensen, thanked commissioners for halting plans to demolish the Granary after city officials and members of the public asked for more time to try to save it.

"What's important is memory," Christensen said. "Buildings are physical manifestations of memory."

Commissioner Jim Jorgensen called the artist's rendering "beautiful" but had no other comment.

Commissioner Scott Walker said he was anxious to see something take shape on the mostly idle 137 waterfront acres that the port acquired from Georgia-Pacific Corp. in 2005.

"I still believe that the port needs to take leadership of this waterfront project," Walker said.


Click here to see the full-size conceptual drawing (PDF) of a restored granary building as presented by Bellingham developers John Blethen and James Willson.