Contacts: University Communications, (360) 650-3350; Port of Bellingham, (360) 676-2500
BELLINGHAM - For the past several years, Western Washington University and the Port of Bellingham have been working together to bring Western to the waterfront.
The Port's Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a motion for the Port to move forward in creating a special development entity that would be charged with executing this development project. Western's Board of Trustees approved a similar measure earlier this month.
"I believe this is an essential first step toward Western bringing its programs to the waterfront," said Commission President Doug Smith. "The University will be an excellent anchor tenant and will attract additional private development that will move this project forward."
The board approvals authorize the port and university to enter into an Interlocal Agreement to create this new organization. In future meetings both boards will be asked to approve an annual operating budget, bylaws and development concepts.
"Western is very proud to be part of the historic revitalization of Bellingham's waterfront, which will provide economic and many other benefits to the community and to the state," said Western President Karen W. Morse. "Approval of the development entity provides an important mechanism for Western's move to The Waterfront District."
Western is seeking to expand to the waterfront to meet opportunities of growing enrollment and to attract additional public and private partners to this important project.
Western has a smaller campus than most state colleges and universities and has no more space on its existing campus to build more facilities. Western also has been focused on establishing stronger connections with the off-campus community and it plans to move several programs including Huxley College of the Environment to The Waterfront District.
A move to the waterfront by WWU has already begun through a partnership with the port within the Innovation Partnership Zone in the old GP tissue warehouse and with university offices in the Old Port Office building at the site. Western would like to develop 12-16 acres of the 220-acre area that makes up The Waterfront District.
"Having a highly respected university ready to join in this redevelopment project is a great bonus for our community," said Port Executive Director Jim Darling. "This is a rare opportunity that our community has been afforded and we need to do whatever we can to bring this to fruition."
Once fully established, this new development entity could either purchase or lease a parcel of land from the port. This land would include acreage for Western as well as additional property for adjacent commercial development. As one approach, the entity could solicit private developers to build the project, potentially leasing back Western's portion in a long-term lease agreement.
The port and Western believe this "Intermediary Development Authority" structure will be beneficial because it does not require full state capital funding upfront, which should allow a faster development path; it will attract private investment, which will save taxpayer money; and it will attract additional private investment in the entire waterfront project because other businesses will benefit by locating near Western's facilities.
Details such as the final budget for the development organization and its bylaws still are being determined. The board of directors for it would be the university president, the port executive director, a port commissioner, a university trustee and one additional person chosen by the board. It is anticipated that the entity would be formed and the board established in 2008.