By Drew Stuart
Bellingham’s waterfront district is getting a new lease on life.
The Port and City of Bellingham are slowly but surely cleaning up the polluted shoreline and are close to completing Waypoint Park, the first new addition to the waterfront.
But with so much work still ahead, it’s hard to know what a completed waterfront will look like.
There are currently two designs that Harcourt Developments, the developer in charge of the first step of construction, has proposed.
Both designs were presented to the public at an open house at the Granary Building on Wednesday, Jan. 17. Brian Gouran, the director of environmental programs for the Port, said they received useful feedback from the event.
“People seem to be leaning more toward the Waypoint design,” Gouran said. He continued by saying that several employees at the Port felt similarly.
Paul Cocke, director of communications for Western, said in an email that Western has plans to build on the waterfront.
“Western continues to believe that the waterfront district holds great promise,” Cocke said in an email.
“I think everybody is going to be able to enjoy it. It’s really going to flow with the feeling of Bellingham.”
ANNIE WADDELL, WESTERN STUDENT
He explained that Western wants to develop on the waterfront, and is currently selling a plot of land at the intersection of Hannegan Road and Bakerview Road through Western Crossing Development.
Western Crossing is a development entity created by the Port and Western to sell this piece of land, which would afford Western additional cash for waterfront development.
Western previously requested $4.5 million from the state to acquire waterfront property in its 2017-19 operating budget. This request, however, did not make it into the final version of Western’s operating budget.
This wouldn’t be Western’s first venture on the waterfront. Western and Bellingham Technical College’s Technology Development Center has been open on the waterfront for nearly a decade.
There are already a handful of businesses on the waterfront. All American Marine, an aluminum boat manufacturer, moved into its new waterfront facility last year, and brought over 100 people from its Fairhaven location, according to Gouran. Additionally, solar panel manufacturer Itek Energy recently moved into their waterfront factory on Cornwall Avenue, allowing them to expand their environmentally-friendly business.
In the future, Bellingham can expect a mixture of businesses to populate the developing waterfront district. According to the sub-area plan by the port and city, the vision for the waterfront is one that encourages marine commerce and shipping, office spaces, small businesses and housing, all without the need for a car.
Tara Sundin, the community and economic development manager for the city, said she’s hoping for an increased presence of tech-related businesses, as well as the coffee shops and retail businesses that Bellingham is known for.
Sundin also said housing on the waterfront will largely consist of condos that will spark a return on investment, but at least 10 percent of residences will be affordable housing.
The expected completion of redevelopment is tentative at best, Gouran said. Cleaning up the waterfront after a century of industrial pollution has proved challenging for the Port.
“We’ve run into some complications along the way. One was the Whatcom Waterway cleanup […] one of the biggest projects the Port has ever undertaken besides building the airport,” Gouran said.
The process of cleaning up the waterway cost $35 million, and had to be constantly re-evaluated until cleanup was proven successful.
Economic development isn’t set in stone either. Gouran said Harcourt is contracted to develop the first 20 acres of the project, including remodeling the Granary building, constructing residential units and a proposed waterfront hotel. However, after these are finished, other businesses will determine the pace of redevelopment.
“It’s going to be partially driven by the market,” Gouran said.
Still, Bellingham will see the first area of the waterfront, Waypoint Park, open in a few months. Annie Waddell, a Western student working in Bellingham’s Parks and Recreation Department, said she’s excited for the opening.
“I think everybody is going to be able to enjoy it,” Waddell said. “It’s really gonna flow with the feeling of Bellingham.”