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Bellingham Development Authority to dissolve after failing to make profit

Jim Long, executive director of Bellingham Public Development Authority, shows interested community members the proposed Army Street development site during a tour Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in Bellingham.
Jim Long, executive director of Bellingham Public Development Authority, shows interested community members the proposed Army Street development site during a tour Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in Bellingham. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

A public corporation originally formed to turn idle city-owned property into cash for city coffers will be dissolved after failing to make a speedy return on the city’s investment.

City Council voted 4-2 Monday night, Dec. 8, to close the Bellingham Public Development Authority . Council members Jack Weiss and Michael Lilliquist voted against dissolving the authority, questioning whether the city might need a similar entity in the future to keep liability at arm’s length and assist with public-private development projects.

However, no council members stepped up during the recent weeks-long budget process to propose funding the authority after Mayor Kelli Linville did not set aside money for it.

Weiss and Lilliquist said they were in favor of mothballing the PDA so it could be resurrected for later use without forcing the city to again go through the lengthy and expensive incorporation process.

As it stands now, to maintain the authority as a ghost would require keeping an active board, which could prove difficult, council member Roxanne Murphy said.

“How are we going to attract a board that will meet on a regular basis about nothing?” Murphy asked.

Since forming the public corporation in 2008, the city has sunk more than $2 million into the entity. The only cash return to the city has been the $1.18 million sale of a property at Cornwall Avenue and Maple Street, less than the original purchase price of $1.54 million.

The authority’s shining star was to be a building project on the edge of downtown made of a collection of private and public parcels. Dubbed the Army Street Project for a street that was never built, the project site is bounded by West Holly Street, Bay Street, Central Avenue and West Chestnut.

Despite positive results from geotechnical, archaeological and environmental reports for the project, a market study found the proposal for high-end office space, apartments and underground parking would not be feasible in the near future.

Seeing the writing on the wall, all but the chairman of the volunteer PDA board, which had dwindled from seven to four members over the years, voted to terminate authority Executive Director Jim Long without cause in October and stop meeting, as the authority had no future. The board’s actions left it up to City Council to officially dissolve the entity.

The city still could use the studies of the Army Street Project to try to attract a developer.

SEE THE MAP

For more information and a map of the proposed Army Street Project, go to this bellinghampda.org webpage.

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