Harbor plan draws ‘serious’ response from developers

Published on Thu, Jan 8, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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Harbor plan draws ‘serious’ response from developers

By Jack Kintner

Long term plans for developing Blaine’s waterfront are now underway, representatives of the Port of Bellingham and the city of Blaine said recently after hearing a presentation last month from a Salt Lake City development group.

alled the Community Studio, it was formed last year to respond to the port’s invitation for proposals in turning what is now five acres of mostly vacant land into a multi-use commercial, retail and residential area, eventually to be connected to downtown with a foot bridge over the train tracks at the H Street Plaza.

At least one of the group’s three principal partners was involved in developing Fairhaven, along with Ken Imus, who has agreed to fund initial work on the proposal for the first 90-days.

“This is all very preliminary,” said the Port’s director of real estate Lydia Bennett, who cautioned that there is much to do before financing can be assured and projects begun, “but this is a serious response from a high-quality developer with a good track record.”

Community Studio LLC, the group responding to the Port’s elaborately named invitation, Wharf District Waterfront Development Opportunity Request for Qualifications and Vision (RFQ/V), includes at least one familiar name, Blaine property owner and Fairhaven district developer Ken Imus of Bellingham, who is listed as an affiliated investor.

The group is led by Kathleen Hill, designer of the Fairhaven Gardens building on the northwest corner of 11th street and Mill in Fairhaven. One partner, Soren Simonsen, is an American Institute of Architects (AIA) certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) architect and urban planner. Katherine Glover Quinlan is the owner of an urban and retail planning, marketing and tenanting firm based in Salt Lake City.

“Quinlan’s role is one thing that really impressed us at the city,” said Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic, “because her job is to go out and find the businesses and convince them to locate here. That’s not something developers hire a specialist for very often, but she’s got a good track record. We at the city were impressed with their enthusiasm.”

The Port’s RFQ/V was issued in October and covers the portions of land owned by the Port that now have the old web lockers on Marine Drive and the grassy area along the south side of Milhollin Drive.
The Community Studio’s proposal was the only one submitted but as Bennett pointed out it’s a serious response by a development group with a track record, most notable locally for taking a major role in developing Fairhaven.

Bennett, along with port director Jim Darling, the port’s chief financial officer Rob Fix and port commissioner Jim Jorgensen joined Tomsic, Blaine community development director Terry Galvin and Blaine public works director Steve Banham for a two-hour session with Hill, Sorensen and Quinlan on December 18.

“Their conceptual proposal is to create an extension of and build upon the values and authenticity of Blaine in a mixed-use community,” Bennett said, adding that the port “will begin negotiations in January with them so they can move forward with further development of their concept.”

Tomsic said that though this is the port’s project, “we’ve entered into an inter-local agreement and will basically construct our share of the project, subject to availability of funding.”

Preliminary discussions indicate this would include such pieces as funding Plover Park and constructing the pedestrian overpass from downtown to near the site’s southern edge.

The Community Studio’s plan says that the wharf district “is rich with the components for success and offer tremendous connection opportunities.

“A vital and vibrant village will be created [using] multiple modes of transportation as the means of moving people through the development.

“Connecting people on the ground to the other areas surrounding the development is key.”

The plan goes on to define these connections as “...A system of plazas, pathways, roads, well connected trails, promenades, bridges, boardwalks, and sidewalks that provide clear internal circulation within the Wharf District and Blaine... Two essential elements for a vibrant development are people and water. Both of these elements act as powerful magnets for attracting people to a place.”

Their presentation is illustrated with previous projects they have participated in, notably in Bellingham’s Fairhaven district, implying that the basic feel of the place, once all this happens, will be similar.
Financing is yet to be secured, but the Port’s request was not intended to gather specific information and was not detailed enough to begin planning major financing beyond Imus’ agreement to provide “initial funding for preliminary work in developing the scope and nature of the project during the 90-day initial negotiation period,” the report states.

To review the report, visit the Port of Bellingham’s website at www.portofbellingham.com.