Some of the people who still hope to save the waterfront Granary Building will be at this afternoon’s Port of Bellingham commission meeting, hoping to convince commissioners to give the 1928 waterfront structure one more chance at a new life.
The Granary Building was built in 1928 as the focal point of a once-booming egg and poultry business in Whatcom County. It has been vacant for decades, and was the property of Georgia-Pacific Corp. before that company shut down its waterfront pulp and paper operations and handed over its 137 acres of industrial land to the port in 2005.
Since that time, port officials have argued that the building is not salvageable. They say seawater seeps into its basement at high tide. In May 2012, Port Environmental Director Mike Stoner told Bellingham City Council that it would cost $14 million to make the building usable again, amounting to $533 per square foot.
Former Mayor Dan Pike and his staff favored preservation of the Granary and other old waterfront structures if possible, but current Mayor Kelli Linville and her staff now seem to agree that the Granary must go, partly because it would block the best route for street access to a redeveloped waterfront.
Developer John Blethen is not convinced.
Blethen, who has been involved in waterfront issues for years as a member of the Waterfront Futures Group, Waterfront Advisory Group, and unsuccessful port commission candidate, agrees that the $14 million price tag for a Granary rehab is a deal breaker if it is accurate. Blethen wants the port to give independent experts and would-be investors more access to the building to see if they agree that the cost would be that high.
Then, investors and developers could come to the port with their plans for reusing the building.
“The port needs to decide that they will at least explore saving this building,” Blethen said. “They could do a request for proposals before they knock the building down.”
Blethen said he and others expect to raise the issue during the public comment period at the start of the 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 17 commission meeting at Harbor Center, 1801 Roeder Ave. Commissioners are also scheduled to get an update on the building from port staff.
Blethen noted that earlier cost estimates for a Granary rehab were about $6 million, and he thinks the job would be feasible in that range. But he also said he’s not in a position to undertake the project himself.