Developer Negotiates Trial Period

Taylor Thetford, February 25, 2014, The Western Front

The Port of Bellingham [Wash.] approved a 120-day trial period with Dublin-based Harcourt Developments Limited to collaborate and discuss future developments of the Bellingham Waterfront District.

The commissioners of the Port of Bellingham voted unanimously to approve the trial period on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Harcourt Developments, the leading candidate for developing the 10.8 acres of Bellingham’s waterfront, will be advising and discussing ideas for development, such as architecture and layout.

Developments of affordable housing, parks and restoring the Granary Building for use are some of the items on the agenda during the 120-day period, said Rob Fix, executive director for the Port of Bellingham.

Tollhouse Energy, a Washington-based company, was also chosen to develop and restore the Granary Building within the 10.8 acres.

“Our vision on the [Granary Building] is to restore it and make it better than it’s ever been,” said Thom Fischer, president of Tollhouse Energy.

Details of the restoration would include a power turbine to generate energy from water flow for the building itself and future buildings. It has high hopes of becoming one of the greenest buildings in Bellingham, Fischer said.

Over the next 120 days, Harcourt, Tollhouse and the Port of Bellingham will converse about development and come to an agreement, Fix said.

However, concerns are present among the public about the habitat issues and environmental impact development will have on the bay, said Wendy Harris, a concerned citizen who spoke at the Port of Bellingham meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18.

“When I took a look at the Harcourt plan — the one released to the public — there is no mention about wildlife,” Harris said. “They talk about unrestricted public access without any understanding that some of that area is sensitive habitat.”

Harris is also concerned Harcourt is not a local company, she said.

“They don’t know Puget Sound,” Harris said. “They don’t know us. They don’t know our species. They don’t know our love for the wildlife.”

Tollhouse, however, is very open to working with a country from another background, Fischer said.

“We have someone from Ireland interested in dumping money into Bellingham. I think it’s awesome,” Fischer said. “We’re going to make sure locally we have some influence on what gets built and what’s good for Bellingham.”

Harcourt will meet a number of local companies informally and will discuss different visions for the waterfront, said Carolyn Casey, Port of Bellingham director of external affairs.

Local organizations aside from Tollhouse Energy include Whatcom Housing Authority and Uniting Creatives LLC, a company that also submitted a proposal to develop the waterfront, Casey said.

Uniting Creatives hopes the redevelopment of the waterfront will put Bellingham on the map, said Joy Gilfilen, president of Uniting Creatives.

The company’s vision includes marine research facilities in Bellingham Bay to stimulate environmental growth, she said.

“We are promoting [Bellingham] as a destination city for the whole Pacific region as well as the world,” Gilfilen said. “If something is going to be built here, we want it to be first-class, world-class and top-of-the-line.”

Harcourt has huge amounts of development experience in nine different countries, Casey said.

This year, there were four responses for a master developer. The chosen candidates crafted proposals and went through two interviews — one over the phone and one in person — and were chosen by a board, which included the Port of Bellingham, the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County and also included Western Vice President Steve Swan, Fix said.

“Really the Port and the City are the master developers for the whole site,” Fix said. “We’re the ones who put together the master zoning changes for the entire site; we’re the ones who control what goes on.”

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