Port pushes for pricey Marine Drive project
By Pat Grubb
The Port of Bellingham is taking an aggressive approach to its Blaine harbor properties both in what it expects a private developer to pony up and when it expects to get the project rolling. What that project will actually be is anyone’s guess if Monday night’s joint meeting of Blaine City Council and the Port of Bellingham commissioners is any indication.
The city and the port are jointly planning the redevelopment of Blaine harbor and the meeting was intended to give elected officials and the public an overview of planning for the first phase. This encompasses the area south of Marine Drive currently occupied by the web lockers, Milhollin Drive, the boat launch facilities, Blaine Marine Services and the area abutting the railroad tracks (see areas 2 & 3 on the master plan). Under the master plan, these areas are referred to as Plover Park and the Mariner Village mixed-use development.
Port staff said they anticipate public investment of approximately $11 million in infrastructure, parks and harbor facilities while private developers would be expected to invest between $115 to $128 million on the 5.25 acre site. Projects costing upwards of $100 million generally mean only national or international developers are capable of making such a large investment. In return, the developer would receive a lease of up to 80 years on the property.
Port executive director Jim Darling told officials that there was a “need to engage private developers to see what their vision would be” and consequently the port had come up with a “very aggressive time table” for the redevelopment. A request for qualifications and a vision statement would be issued June 30 with an August 1 deadline for proposals. A short list of developers would be completed by September 1 with an executed development agreement signed by November 1.
Raising the $128 million question
Port commissioner Scott Walker perhaps raised the most perplexing question when he asked, “What does the city want to see in the way of private investment?”
First up was Blaine community development director Terry Galvin who responded, “Primarily water uses, restaurants, hotels,” adding he believed the paths and parks and other amenities would be “a great gravitational pull.”
Mayor Bonnie Onyon, meanwhile, expressed skepticism about a hotel, citing a need for ‘living wage’ jobs. She also emphasized the importance of the entrance to the harbor area. “We have to do it in a grand way so even people on the freeway can see it.”
Councilmember Charlie Hawkins noted that the Granville Island development in Vancouver incorporated a myriad of uses including restaurants, stores, theaters, light construction, water activities and more.
Walker responded, “I can guarantee you, lots of developers will come back with proposals for residential projects and just having residential projects isn’t going to bring the vitality you’re looking for.”
He added that the Bellwether project in Bellingham cost $48 million in 1998 and has taken 10 years to be successful.
City manager Gary Tomsic said, “I don’t think we should shy away from residential developments. That may be what you need to make the rest of it work,” referring to his earlier statement that he believed “This development will be the stimulus to the development of the uplands. This could be a kick start for us and be as important to Blaine as the waterfront project is to Bellingham.”