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Board of trustees looks to expand Waterfront District to tenants

By Ashlyn Farnworth

At the Feb. 14 board of trustees meeting, members discussed the future of the Waterfront Crossing Innovation Park concept,  a collaboration between the Port of Bellingham and Western that aims to initiate the university’s presence in the Waterfront District. The present goal is for public agencies to establish tenancy on the property in order to encourage private partners to follow suit.

Since 2008, The Port and Western have been working together to put higher education facilities on purchased Waterfront District property. As a result, the Western Crossing Development was established in 2009 as a nonprofit organization and development site, according to the Port website

According to the development proposal, Western Washington University envisions a community that will serve as an incubator for new businesses or organizations looking to expand. The proposal continues to say that “the Innovation Park would help startup companies develop their potential and nurture scientific and technological entrepreneurial ventures.”

The first step toward finding organizations to occupy the space is to look at already existing partnerships between Western and state and local government agencies. 

“Once established, the facility and its working tenancy will serve as a strategic foothold for attracting from the private sector (facilitated, in part, by current working partnerships with Western),” university President Sabah Randhawa wrote in an item submitted to the board of trustees.

Brad Johnson the dean of the College of Science and Engineering, said this would act as phase one in a multiple phase operation.

“We would have actual structures and working partnerships and models to point at, and that’s going to be much more attractive to the other private partners we’ve been talking to,” Johnson said.

The board discussed four different organizations and Western partners as potential tenants for the six acres of property, all of which have current partnerships with Western. These would include: the U.S. Geological Survey, the Cascades Volcano Observatory, the Consolidation of State Agency Staff and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“These are agencies that already have established research projects, including work both with graduate and undergraduate students and faculty,” said Donna Gibbs, the vice president of University Relations and Marketing.

The U.S. Geological Survey is the main priority, and has been a partner with Western for over 10 years. This group has been integral in mentoring students in their research endeavors, as well as having a long history of long-term joint project ventures with the university. According to President Randhawa, one of the organization's main concerns is studying landscape climate change in watersheds across the Northwest region.

According to the tentative schedule, the next step going forward  is establishing criteria for the P3 model that is envisioned for the project. P3 refers to Private, Public and Partnerships, and this year, Western and the Port plan to put together a team to secure the best of each.

On Western’s website, the designated waterfront page describes the roles of private and public partners respectively in a potential form of P3 model. According to the website, the private partners would serve as developers that specialize in business dealings and can provide connections for potential tenants. The public partners would own property and support projects politically.

Western and the Port are projecting to break ground on construction in 2022, and plan to have an occupant in place for the first project the following year.

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