Port: Bellingham waterfront negotiations will continue into new year

Negotiations with an Irish development group that hopes to rebuild part of the city’s waterfront will push into next year as the Port of Bellingham finalizes details of an agreement.

The Port Commission first approved negotiating with Dublin-based Harcourt Developments in February this year.

The negotiations involve the northwestern corner of a contaminated section of Bellingham’s waterfront that was formerly home to a Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and tissue mill. The site includes the Granary Building.

It could be Jan. 20 or later before a master agreement comes before the three commissioners for approval, Executive Director Rob Fix said during the last regular commission meeting of the year, Tuesday, Dec. 16. Early in November, Fix had told the commission he was 80 percent confident the two would reach a deal by the end of the year.

Fix recently travelled to Ireland to “kick the tires,” checking out the firm’s previous projects, speaking with people who had worked with Harcourt, and following due diligence processes that included looking at the firm’s financial viability.

Harcourt has developed large-scale projects in several countries, including shopping centers, hotels, and an acclaimed waterfront development on a brownfield site in Northern Ireland known as the Titanic Quarter. Fix toured a handful of the sites and said they looked healthy.

A representative from the Titanic Foundation, which promotes tourism at the Titanic Quarter, told Fix she was impressed with Harcourt for coming in on time and under budget with the Titanic Museum, and that the company had delivered on all its promises.

Fix said he also looked at a portfolio of financial information for 75 of Harcourt’s roughly 100 total companies. The numbers, from 2012, showed the firm’s assets for those 75 companies was about $70 million.

Fix said he still wants to see the final numbers for 2013.

The port is also waiting for more details on one of two legal fights Harcourt has been involved in regarding major development projects.

Harcourt assured Fix they had resolved legal problems with Sullivan Square, a neighborhood planned for Las Vegas that was never built, in part due to the onset of the recession. The company is looking at bringing that project back to life, Fix said.

However, the port’s lawyers were still waiting to learn more about other legal action involving a large-scale mixed-use development on Jersey, an island off the coast of France. Harcourt claims it started building office complexes there before the local government determined it could do the same work on its own and gave Harcourt the boot, Fix said.

Reports by the Irish Independent stated the local government kicked Harcourt from the project in 2009 with claims the firm hadn’t shown it could pay for the large project. Harcourt sued after losing the contract, and the firm reports that litigation is still ongoing. While the litigation could affect Harcourt’s opportunity to earn revenue, Fix said, it would not result in any loss of investment.