The Gristle


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

PDA DOA REDUX: City Council this week agreed to keep the Bellingham Public Development Authority operating in 2014 with a $558,000 appropriation from the city’s street maintenance fund.

Jim Long, the development authority’s executive director, had asked the council for a larger sum: $1.1 million, from proceeds from the 2011 sale of city-owned property originally purchased with parking revenues. The shuffle of monies keeps the PDA alive a little longer, but to what ultimate purpose?

Tellingly, not much has changed since the Gristle penned the following at this time last year:

“Just as the target at last finally drifts into view, Bellingham policymakers may lose one steely arrow in their quiver for negotiations on the future of the city’s central waterfront. In their budget talks this month, Bellingham City Council appeared uncertain about the future of its Public Development Authority, created in 2008 to help manage city assets and develop public-private partnerships that might assist in the redevelopment of the former Georgia-Pacific mill site and adjoining properties.

“The Bellingham PDA was modeled after similar organizations around the country that assist in large-scale redevelopment projects, such as the successful redevelopment by the Port of Tacoma of a portion of that city’s waterfront. Implicit in their creation is the understanding that elected policymakers are often unsuited to detailed property negotiation, and general purpose municipal governments often lack the instruments to focus on grand projects of this magnitude. An ideal PDA, then, is an association of private developers and entrepreneurs appointed by city administration and led by someone who has managed this sort of public-private partnership before.

“Implicit in the creation of the Bellingham PDA was the understanding of former Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike that he needed an instrument to help defend city interests and push back against the port’s intransigent negotiating style of thimblerigging and gaslighting his administration around phony panic deadlines and fraudulent assertions.

“Early on, City Council had surrendered much of its braking authority and bargaining tools, with several members declaring openly that they would not in any way impede the port’s $150 million diamond plan for the waterfront. The city had early on surrendered its rights to collect taxes or fees on developments there, and thus their ability to forgive and forgo those collections as a bargaining chip to help steer the plan in appropriate ways. And, critically, the city had early on surrendered its powerful position as lead agency in the environmental review, in effect letting the contractor write the contract.

“The Pike administration considered the PDA might ease a growing friction between the city’s weak and pliant negotiating position and that of the port.

“Ideally, both organizations would form and fund the PDA; and the authority would act on behalf of and in the interests of both. Through rents and revenues collected on key public properties, the PDA could be self-funding and self-sufficient.

“The port, however, perhaps correctly perceiving that a joint public-private development authority might inject compromise and outside competence into their plans, declined to contribute to the PDA, crippling its efficacy and dooming its ultimate success.

“Kelli Linville entered office in 2012 critical of Dan Pike’s stalled negotiations with the Port of Bellingham. Like the port, she perhaps perceived the PDA more as obstacle than instrument in rekindling those negotiations. And with negotiations stalled and waterfront redevelopment plans under­water, the very purpose  of a costly PDA seemed unclear to her. For certain, the PDA is not recovering its own operating costs, as originally imagined.”

As the Gristle wrote in 2012, Bellingham City Council remains divided on the PDA, questioning the future of the organization in their special budget session this week. That so little has changed in a year adequately summarizes the torpor and absence of defining mission that plagues the BPDA.

The development authority in 2011 engineered the sale of city property at Cornwall Avenue and Maple Street (at a loss of more than a quarter of a million dollars to the city’s often-raided parking fund) in order to finance early waterfront infrastructure staging near Central Avenue at Army Street. The sale raised $1.2 million.

BPDA Director Long proposed to continue dipping into that cash to continue the planning and development of the assemblage of properties at the Army Street project site, which could produce a commercial and retail center built around a parking solution for downtown. Long estimates the city could recover more than $120 million if Army Street were fully developed according to PDA plans. The staging itself could also help address some of the thornier issues of access into the former mill site. Council instead raided the street fund.

The problems swarming the Army Street assemblage is but a microcosm of the Waterfront District as a whole—an equation whose central co-efficient is a non-existent developer in a market that has gone sour for large-scale developments of this kind. The value of X might be zero.

The BPDA’s principal reason for existing cratered when the port declined to stick its neck in the harness Pike created. Tragically, the PDA’s early conceptual illustrations for the Water­front District are in many ways superior to the port’s horror show, particularly in their understanding of traffic flows and view corridors. As City Council prepares to ink agreements with the port’s master plan, they might wisely consider requiring the agency to join and jointly fund their development authority that was created expressly for this purpose.



SVCR Commodores
Past Columns
Twice Zero

October 19, 2016

Convergent Streams

October 12, 2016


October 5, 2016

A Stitch In Time

September 28, 2016

Closer to home

September 21, 2016

Zombie Stumbles On

September 14, 2016


September 7, 2016

Much ADU about nothing

August 31, 2016

A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Handling the truth


Tech Trends Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Family Game Night

7:30pm|DUG Theater

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Art & Science of Gardening

8:00am|St. Luke's Health Education Center

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Lynden Book Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Books, Bites and Blogging

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Komo Kulshan Ski and Snowboard Swap

4:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Gymnasium

Festival of the Macabre

5:00pm|Leopold Crystal Ballroom

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Friday Night Flicks

7:00pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Clay Girl

7:00pm|Village Books

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall and Brodniak Hal

Top of the food chain


Ghost Hunt Class

7:30pm|Downtown Bellingham

Saeed Abbas

7:30pm|Bayview Community Hall

Top of the Food Chain

7:30pm|BAAY Theatre

12 Minutes Max Fall Showcase

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Phenomenal Woman Cabaret

8:00pm|Cirque Lab


8:00pm|Old Main Theater

Ghosts of Concrete

11:00pm|Skagit County Community Action Center

MBT Once Everybody’s Store
Handling the truth


The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Family Game Night

7:30pm|DUG Theater

Lynden Book Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Komo Kulshan Ski and Snowboard Swap

4:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Gymnasium

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall and Brodniak Hal

Top of the food chain


12 Minutes Max Fall Showcase

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center


8:00pm|Old Main Theater


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Phenomenal Woman Cabaret

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Make It & Take It

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Cherry Point Forum

9:00am|Bellingham Technical College

Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek

Scottish Highland Reel Competition

9:00am|Syre Center

Make a Difference Day

9:00am|Whatcom County

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

98221 Artists Studio Tour

10:00am|Anacortes and Guemes Island

Correspondence Club

10:00am|Mindport Exhibits

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Harvest Happens

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

Community Meal

10:00am|United Church of Ferndale

Celebrating Vicky Marshall

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Cornhole Tournament

2:00pm|Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County

Writing the Living Memoir

2:00pm|Ferndale Library


4:00pm|Bellingham Sportsplex

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

6:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Warfel Award Ceremony

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Skagit Symphony Gala Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Whose Live Anyway?

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Just another hardcore troubadour


MBT Ben Folds Everybody’s Store
Handling the truth


Lynden Book Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall and Brodniak Hal

98221 Artists Studio Tour

10:00am|Anacortes and Guemes Island

Harvest Happens

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

The Fungus Among Us

10:00am|North Lake Whatcom Park

Lynden Book Club

12:30pm|Lynden Library

Sunday Market

1:00pm|Alger Community Hall

Praise the Salmon

1:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Living Proof

4:00pm|Village Books

Benefit Variety Show

6:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Greg Proops

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »

MBT Once Bellingham Farmer’s Market Lydia Place Artifacts Wine Bar MBT Ben Folds Swinomish 2016 Everybody’s Store Andrew Subin Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Northwood Steak and Crab