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Construction on Bellingham waterfront Granary expected by summer

The Granary Building, which will be remodeled starting this year, is shown July 30, 2015.
The Granary Building, which will be remodeled starting this year, is shown July 30, 2015. eabell@bhamherald.com

The first work on the Granary Building that sits on Bellingham’s waterfront is expected to start as soon as late spring or early summer.

Some of that work could include emergency repairs to clean the building and get it ready for construction, said John Reid, the architect working with Ireland-based Harcourt Developments on the remodel.

When the building is completed, possibly as soon as mid-2017, it will be the first place on the former industrial waterfront to get a fresh look and renewed life as the land is redeveloped following cleanup efforts conducted by the Port of Bellingham.

The Granary was selected as one of the only remaining structures to be remodeled, in part due to calls from the community to preserve its history.

“A lot of granaries have been demolished or are falling into serious disrepair,” Reid said. “The building is unique in terms of the agricultural history in the state of Washington.”

The building was put up in 1928 during the boom of local chicken and egg production.

Small-time chicken farmers banded together to form the Whatcom County Egg Producers Association and later the Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association in 1917. Working together enabled them to buy feed in bulk and ship their eggs and chicken meat out to market.

Whatcom County had the second-highest chicken population in the country in 1920, behind another county in California, according to an article by the Whatcom County Historical Society in the February 2000 Bellingham Business Journal.

After the chicken co-op ceased at some point mid-century – as Jeff Jewell at the Whatcom Museum summed it up, “It’s one of those businesses people don’t pay much attention to unless you’re in it” – Georgia Pacific bought the building and used its lower levels as storage until the Port of Bellingham bought the site.

The building generally has three stories (the tower has five) and it will be renovated to include restaurant space, stores, office space and public access to views of the waterfront.

Inspections showed that the pilings underneath the building appear to be in reasonably good condition from what was able to be uncovered, Reid said.

Because the building had a basement, the piles were lower in the ground than other properties, and protected from water, Reid said.

“Whoever decided to put in a basement was either very clever or very lucky,” Reid said. “Either way I think it turned out to be a good decision because piles notoriously rot in their upper section due to exposure out of water.”

The developer still will need to deal with some issues found with the building’s concrete and timber, as well as factor in seismic upgrades to get the Granary to current safety standards.

Road design changes

In other waterfront news, Bellingham City Council and the Port of Bellingham Commission approved changes to the layout of the two main city streets that will run through the waterfront property.

The change will have the two main entry routes to the site intersect right next to the Board Mill building, which Harcourt has expressed an interest in developing.

The Board Mill is currently on a piece of the waterfront set aside for Western Washington University via Western Crossing Development, a nonprofit corporation and development entity.

For Harcourt to develop it, Western Crossing has to agree, and the port will have to work out a shift in what land goes to Western Crossing, with approval from the Port Commission.

Western Crossing’s board of directors will discuss the proposed change at its annual meeting Wednesday, May 4.

The day before that, the Port Commission will be asked to give Harcourt more time to get working on the next building to go up after the Granary.

The original agreement that gave Harcourt the exclusive right to develop 18.8 acres on the waterfront stated that the Granary needs to be finished by 2019, and a permit application for a second building would need to be submitted to the city by May 19, 2016.

But port staff said it wasn’t clear at the time the agreement was signed last year that Harcourt would want to take on the Board Mill as the second project.

Port Executive Director Rob Fix explains that because reusing the building is more complex than building something new, and because the building would need to be shifted away from Western Crossing’s control, port staff will recommend giving Harcourt more time to submit its plans to the city for permitting.

Harcourt could incorporate the Board Mill, located near the center of the waterfront, into a hotel and conference center, with office and/or apartment space.

Reid has hinted since late 2015 that once work starts on the Granary Building, which is where he and Harcourt are focusing their efforts, the two will be able to present their vision for what the rest of the waterfront site could look like.

“All efforts are focused on getting the Granary underway,” Reid said. “When that is done I think they would like to go public with their ideas for the vision plan and the Board Mill.”

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Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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