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It is an exciting time to be involved with our Downtown Waterfront redevelopment. The Port has recently completed several important environmental cleanup projects, the City will begin the installation of roads and parks this spring, and our development partner, Harcourt, has made substantial progress on the renovation of the Granary Building while planning the next three projects. I believe that 2017 will be the year that we are able to welcome the public onto its new Downtown Waterfront!
In October 2016, at a well-attended Port Commission meeting, Harcourt Developments presented a Vision Plan with ideas to improve the Waterfront District Master Plan that was adopted in 2013. We recognize and appreciate Harcourt’s international expertise and success with sites like ours. I believe Port and City staff like Harcourt’s suggestions and hope you will too. Harcourt, Port staff and City staff all know the importance of having our elected officials and the public involved in changes to the 2013 Waterfront District Master Plan. This will take time and open minds. The good news is while we all consider the proposed changes, the two plans overlap enough that the City can continue to install roads and waterfront parks, the Port can continue its cleanup activities, and Harcourt can plan and begin building 3 or 4 projects.
From my perspective, the Port’s development partners have been first rate. The Port has been working closely with the City through a myriad of details to get the roads and parks built. I come from the private sector and it is gratifying to see these two professional staffs work together for the public good. The Harcourt management team in Dublin has been professional and focused on working with the Port and the City to get projects built. Their international experience and past successes have shown that they are committed for the long term. The first-rate job they are doing on the Granary Building remodel shows the real potential for the Downtown Waterfront.
Some seem bothered by “more process” and worry that it will slow the pace of development. Stated simply, our process is important and it will not be delay the pace of development. Instead, going forward, the pace will be determined by market demand. No one should have the misperception that an urban village will spring up overnight given our community’s historic development absorption rate. A review of the current market conditions in the downtown area shows a need for residential space and good availability of office and retail space. And, no one person’s vision will be what is built. Instead the Master Plan will evolve over time and need valued input from the public, community stakeholders and our partners including the City, Harcourt, the County, the Department of Ecology, the Department of Natural Resources, the Lummi Nation and Western Washington University.
The Port has a lot going on from Fairhaven to Blaine. We have activated shipping at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal. We have sold property to a local solar panel manufacturer, ITEK, near the downtown waterfront which will allow them to grow. Across the Whatcom Waterway from the Downtown Waterfront, the Port is developing a public barge terminal and boat haul-out facility that will support marine trades jobs. Next to the I& J Waterway, we are completing a state-of-the-art boat manufacturing facility that will expand marine trades jobs. We are working in Blaine and Fairhaven to address historic contamination and rebuild marine infrastructure in support of the working waterfront. And, we are continuing to develop Bellingham International Airport. I am proud that Port staff has the resources, skills and discipline to accomplish all these projects. So don’t worry that one project will slow down another. We will continue to work hard to gain your support, accomplish all of the work and make sure our entire Port is successful.
Our Downtown Waterfront has arrived and the Port Commission, the Mayor and City Council deserve our thanks for their tireless efforts in putting this old mill site back to work. They have shown great leadership and tremendous forethought for our community. They embrace and value our public process. They ask us all tough questions because they want to get things right.
I hope you will join us later this year as we celebrate, for the first time in over 100 years, the opening of public access to the former mill site on roads and parks built by the City, near a waterway cleaned up by the Port and the Granary Building given a wonderful new life by Harcourt!
Rob FixPort Executive Director