The Old Real-estate Adage: Location, Location, Location –
Becomes important when faced with an Economic Challenge
Bellingham, Washington had its primary employment company leave town. Georgia Pacific’s tissue and pulp mill. Generations were employed there. Some graduates from Western Washington College (now university) left school, studied the obituaries to discover who had worked at the mill and died, to give them an advantage in their job search. Job openings were rare and any advantage in discovering job openings was worth the effort. And so the life of a mill town continued.
In spite of the mill era’s end. Perhaps because of the end. The change from a resource based economy, to a diverse, service and innovation economy, Bellingham thrives. It thrives because of its economic engines. And its locale. People simply want to be near the water.
It is located on its name sake bay, Bellingham Bay, part of the Salish Sea. The local leaders saw a need to reclaim public access to the waterfront. First taking back an old docking system that was used by clipper ships to transport bricks, one way and lumber in the other. The dock is now a lovely boardwalk, Taylor Street Dock. The City also took back an old creosote plant and turned it into low-bank waterfront park.
The latest efforts to provide waterfront access have been the Georgia Pacific site. Twenty acres, one side borders the Whatcom Creek waterway. Millions upon millions of dollars have gone into restoring this waterfront. All taxpayer dollars. The price of admission to prime waterfront property. Georgia Pacific granted the property to the Port of Bellingham for a dollar. G-P walked away without having to pay for any of the environmental cleanup.
So now there is a lovely park called Waypoint Park as part of the development plan. The old spherical acid tank has been moved from the digester building to the park. Other tanks from the digester building will remain as sentinels to another time. No the old rusty hulk does not live in the past. It too has become new. They sealed it, revealing only fragments of the rust and corrosion that once existed. Along the waterway, the tank, the park and a lovely restored six-story grain shed. On the inside of the grain shed are old-growth wood beams exposed to reveal a logging era from another time. It will likely become occupied once additional buildings and more foot traffic begin fill the waterfront.
Developers, Harcourt Developments of Ireland, has development rights. Plans for residential living await the water side. The developers predicted it would take some 20 years to develop. Their prediction may have underestimated how challenging two government entities can become when trying to balance the old downtown with what will become the new downtown. Attempts are being made to make it an extension of the old into the new.
Tour images 2013: The Georgia Pacific site as it was being dismantled.