The Gristle

Plan A.5

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

PLAN A.5: In a packed public meeting last week, the Port of Bellingham Commission approved an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) that would allow staff up to 120 days to draw up business terms and development agreements with Harcourt Developments from Dublin, Ireland, for the first development parcel of the Bellingham Waterfront District.

The 10.8-acre development parcel is critically sited adjacent to Old Town and the downtown core, and includes the Granary Building, potentially allowing these areas to be more tightly integrated and setting the tone and scale for future development of the district. The parcel is also at the nexus of road and infrastructure development planned and budgeted by Bellingham Public Works for construction in 2015, potentially promising a quick return on that public investment.

Port of Bellingham Executive Director Rob Fix said Harcourt principals have pledged to bring forth a development concept for the 10.8-acre parcel that is in alignment with the Waterfront District plan adopted by the port and city in December. The expectation of many observers is that, after four months of negotiation, port staff will report that dialogue with Harcourt should continue.

Harcourt Developments was one of four proposals received in July 2013 seeking to be the master developer for the 10.8-acre parcel. A major international developer, the firm’s largest and most notable project is the redevelopment of the Titanic Quarter, a former shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Less successful was the firm’s $1 billion Sullivan Square mixed-use high-rise project for Las Vegas, Nevada, a joint venture that tripped up in the financial collapse of 2007 and dissolved into a series of lawsuits.

We wrote last week of the proliferation of executive instruments that transfer deliberation and oversight away from elected legislative bodies and their open public processes to administration and staff, where agreements are negotiated in the dark. Nowhere is this more evident than in the negotiating agreement port commissioners approved last week that essentially authorizes the commission (and public) to be pressed aside while port staff negotiates in private with Harcourt. Thus, the ENA locks the public out of details of a project that has been fraught throughout with a lack of transparency and responsiveness to public opinion.

At the very essence of public concern is widespread apprehension that the port staff is really not up to the task of negotiating in private with a sophisticated international entity like Harcourt. No one on staff has experience negotiating a real estate transaction of this scale. The port has apparently prepared no independent financial analysis for the proposed public/private partnership, an analysis that should include a valuation of the property. Economic analysis would indicate both the bonding capacity and potential public liability for the project.

To understand why the port has dodged such a financial analysis, one must understand from the outset the agency planned to sell, worst-case lease, the 137-acre site of the former Georgia-Pacific mill. Through that sale, the agency would recoup costs for environmental cleanup and—potentially—finance the construction of a new marina.

Harcourt’s offer of a partnership with the port is a game-changer of a magnitude the agency has not readily admitted. The company’s remote status as an international developer based out of Ireland promises an added layer of unusual complexity to the offer.

In June of 2012, the port commission hired the Seattle consulting firm Heartland LLC for an initial phase of research and marketing to attract a potential developer for the initial 10.8-acre property, in anticipation that firm might submit a master development proposal for the entire waterfront district. Last February, the commission increased the expenditure to Heartland to a total of $285,000. In return, the company produced a marketing brochure, a request for proposal (RFP) for the “sale or lease” of those initial acres.

The port didn’t get much for its quarter of a million dollars, with the RFP drawing submittals from just four firms, none of which expressed an interest in the sale or lease of the property, proposing instead varying joint partnerships. One firm withdrew almost immediately. The paucity of proposals were non-responsive to the port’s goals to sell or lease the property; and one must wonder how many proposals the agency might’ve received had they expressed at the outset an interest in a joint partnership, where the public would continue to shoulder the cost and liability. Dozens?

Heartland itself is ripe for a potential conflict of interest, providing similar work and searching for similar proposals (from a limited universe of master developers) for the City of Everett’s stalled riverfront redevelopment. The arsenal of cheap, knowledgable, loyal and durable consultants—the constellation of local development and entrepreneurial business interests organized under the Bellingham Public Development Authority (BPDA)—was rejected out of hand by port staff and now teeters on the brink of dissolving.

The financial environment in which the RFP was originally submitted was hardscrabble, with the global real estate market still reeling from collapse and development and investment firms still litigating and recovering from that collapse. The property—a shuttered, contaminated industrial brownfield—is hardly unique on the American landscape and is of interest only to a particular (and quite finite) set of developers, each looking for sweetheart agreements that would shoulder most of the financial risk on to the public.

Undoubtedly, Harcourt has the resources to tie up port staff and the property for much longer than 120 days, and commissioners offered no policy guidance for next steps beyond that period. Maybe they should spend the time drafting Plan B.

West Coast Wellness
Past Columns
Standoff

June 21, 2017

An Existential Triangle

June 14, 2017

Divided Decisions

June 7, 2017

Breached and Beached

May 10, 2017

The Calm Before the Storm

April 26, 2017

April Showers 2

April 19, 2017

April Showers

April 12, 2017

The Fix Flops

April 5, 2017

A Perfect Storm

March 29, 2017

Monopoly

March 15, 2017

Layers of Concern

March 8, 2017

The Fix Is In

March 1, 2017

Half Time

February 22, 2017

Washington v. Trump, 2

February 15, 2017

Washington v. Trump

February 8, 2017

Events
Today
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

5:00pm|Vanier Park

Fatal Attraction

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Noises Off

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

The Emperor of the Moon

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

10:00am|Whatcom Community College

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Sin & Gin Tours

5:30pm|Downtown Bellingham

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|La Conner Flats

Off the Charts!

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Fool Me Twice

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Lynden Breakfast

8:00am|Lynden Community Center

Padden Triathlon

8:30am|Lake Padden Park

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Sumas Community Days

10:00am|Sumas City Park

What's the Point?

10:00am|Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve

Imagine This! Home and Landscape Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

York Community Farm Celebration

11:00am|York Community Farm

Jelly and Sorbet Class

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

The Art of Bonsai

11:00am|Azusa Farm & Gardens

Farm to Glass

12:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

A Japanese Touch

1:00pm|North Fork Library

Bellingham Beer & Live Music Festival

2:00pm|North Bellingham Golf Course

High Tea

3:00pm|Majestic Inn

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Summer Moments Party and Potluck

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Run Like a Girl

5:30pm|Riverwalk Plaza

Tiny TED Talks

7:00pm|Point Roberts Library

Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Tomorrow
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

5:00pm|Vanier Park

Noises Off

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Off the Charts!

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Gardens of Note

10:00am|Mount Vernon

Vaxxed Bus Stop

10:00am|Civic Stadium, Bloedel Donovan

Forest Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Park

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Local efforts step up to protect Salish Sea orcas

12:00pm

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Audubon at the Museum

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Peace Weavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Refugee Support

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Lester and Hyldahl Trove
Monday
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

5:00pm|Vanier Park

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Pakistani Cuisine

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

Lester and Hyldahl Trove Northwood Steak and Crab Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market