'That will put Bellingham on the map;' city looks to convert 'acid ball' into beacon

These items from an old pulp mill, including the "acid ball," will be part of a new Bellingham park. KOMO News photo

BELLINGHAM. Wash. -- At several stories tall, the rusty relics look like something straight out of 'Mad Max': six towering oblong containers and one giant sphere that have weathered the rough waters of time, business, and industry.

Workers have salvaged the items from the old Georgia-Pacific pulp and tissue mill along Bellingham's waterfront, hoping to turn them into a landmark, as the city converts the space into a 237-acre mixed use development, including a 33-acre public park.

"[The sphere] is commonly referred to as the 'acid ball' because it used acid to cook down pulp for the paper process," said Darby Cowles, senior planner for the City of Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department. "We're very excited because it's such an interesting piece of equipment. People have come up with all different kinds of ideas for how it can be reused."

The artifact will become part of the new Whatcom Waterway park, which is scheduled to open in 2017, as part of a partnership between the port, the city, and private developers, who are currently renovating the nearby Granary Building. The nearly-90-year-old building will become home to restaurant, retail, and office space, officials said.

On Thursday, crews were busy leveling the ground nearby for the first phase of the project, which is slated to open next summer, said Michael Hogan, public affairs administrator for the Port of Bellingham. The site is one of six along the city's waterfront that needed to be cleaned up before it could be developed.

"People always say Bellingham has everything except a connection from downtown to the water, and water is such an important part of people's lives," Hogan said. "This is a really exciting opportunity to rebuild that connection, to rebuild the waterfront economy, and to add something to Bellingham that people have never had."

The city's Arts Commission is soliciting ideas and artists to use the sphere and incorporate it into the new space, potentially adding light, water, texture, or color, Cowles said. The hope is to bridge the city's past history and industry with the future space, which will include a beach, trails, a cafe, and more.

"It's a 30-foot high diameter ball. It's going to be visible from a lot of the neighborhoods and the areas from downtown," Cowles continued, "so we're really interested in how this can be a feature to attract people from the water side and the downtown side."

The city has agreed to clean and move the 'acid ball,' leaving a budget of $130,000 to pay for enhancements, as part of the One Percent for the Arts budget. The deadline for proposals is Oct. 3.

"I do think that by preserving some of these buildings and some of these artifacts we've created an enormous opportunity to put a benchmark in place of what Bellingham was," Cowles said. "I think we can create some unique features that will put Bellingham on the map."

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