and Year in Review
While stories of hurricanes in the South, the war in Iraq and steroids in baseball dominated the national news last year, many of the local business stories centered around big buildings, planned developments, growth and the changing face of Whatcom County.
Here’s a rundown of the BBJ’s picks for the Top 10 local business stories of 2005.
Going up? Bellingham is.
For decades, the city’s tallest building has been the 15-story Bellingham Towers, built in 1930 at 119 N. Commercial St. Its reign atop the cityscape could be about to end, however, as last year developers proposed buildings that would reach more than 260 feet skyward.
In late October, a group of Skagit and Whatcom county developers announced plans for Bay View Tower, a 20-story building aimed at taking advantage of downtown’s spectacular water, mountain, and island views. The building would be the tallest residential condominium tower between Seattle and Canada.
Located near the intersection of State and Holly streets, the building would feature approximately 100 residential condominium homes as well as street-level retail space.
About a week before plans were announced for Bay View Tower, the city acknowledged that staff had met with developer Rick Westerop to discuss preliminary plans for twin 18-story residential towers on the old Morse Hardware site.
Developers last year also announced plans for buildings as tall as 14 stories on Northwest Avenue, 10 stories in Fairhaven, and seven stories in Birch Bay.
Said developer Bob Hall in October: “There are five towers now being proposed downtown, with the smallest one being 14 stories tall. It’s going to be a whole new world downtown.”
2. Western Air
The Port of Bellingham announced last month a long-sought third commercial airline, Western Airlines, founded by Skagit County aviation veterans Jerry Welch and Curt Tronsdal, will soon be flying out of Bellingham International Airport.
Planes flying under the Western Air colors, Welch said, could be taking off from Bellingham by this spring, joining Allegiant Air and Horizon Air as commercial airlines flying out of the airport.
Though no final decisions have been made on the destinations Western Air will fly to, Welch said the airline will likely offer flights to cities in Arizona, California and Alaska. The airline could add as many as 250 jobs locally this year.
3. Hou$ing price$/market
Real estate officials around the state last year were proclaiming Bellingham the state’s fastest-rising residential real estate market.
The average sale price of a home in 2005 rose more than 20 percent in Whatcom County’s largest communities.
Another year of strong demand and low interest rates kept prices climbing, according to Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group South office in Fairhaven. Johnson analyzed data from the Bellingham-Whatcom County Multiple Listing Service and the Northwest Multiple Listing Service to calculate comprehensive statistics for local communities.
The average sale price of a home in Bellingham during 2005 was $327,825, up 23 percent from $2266,524. That increase followed a 13-percent hike in 2004.
Other communities also finished 2005 with strong increases in the average price of a home for a second consecutive year, including:
• Lynden, $316,486, up 25 percent.
• Ferndale, $292,391, up 23 percent.
• Sudden Valley, $272,383, up 22 percent.
• Blaine/Birch Bay, $281,440 up 23 percent.
Driving homebuyers to Whatcom County, officials said, were low interest rates, along with the area’s reputation as a retirement haven with a good quality of life.
While the number of homes on the market is expect to increase in the near future, and help limit the increase in prices, the high costs caused concerns in some circles.
In the July BBJ, Graham Youtsey, a residential-loan officer for Washington Mutual in Bellingham, said: “First-time homebuyers are being priced out of the market, and I see panic on the faces of people who are attempting to get a loan. They are realizing that if they don’t get in now, they may have missed their chance to own a home.”
4. Bakerview building boom
Building permits for the Bakerview area have been piling up at City Hall, as plans for empty lots keep arriving. The area saw steady growth last year, and it appears that will continue in 2006.
Some of the most notable projects included:
• Bakerview Square, a development of 10 commercial buildings to be built on almost 10 acres.
• Spring Creek Assisted Living and Retirement Community, a 162-unit project that recently began construction.
• Expansion of T-Mobile’s Bellingham call center, which will accommodate 100 new workers.
Not to be forgotten are the numerous residential developments in the area. Although condos seem to dominate the newly built projects and proposed blueprints, residential subdivisions and mixed-use development are also a presence.
5. Anti-business perception
B&O taxes were up again and the city continued to grow, but an increasing number of business leaders last year were vocal in their beliefs that the city is anti-business.
“I think there is absolutely, without question, a perception among the general business community that the City of Bellingham is anti-business,” said Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry president and CEO Ken Oplinger in April.
That belief, he said, may have become more prevalent lately because:
• Many people were frustrated in past years dealing with the city’s old permitting process.
• Some business owners believe there doesn’t seem to be an interest in having the chamber participate in the decision-making process at City Hall.
• A public misunderstanding between Aluminum Chambered Boats CEO Larry Wieber and Mayor Mark Asmundson, over Wieber’s belief that Asmundson showed more interest in ACB’s tax revenue than his personal happiness for the company.
Other business owners have said there are too many taxes in Bellingham.
In recent years, longtime businesses such as Absorption Corp., Walton Beverage, Hempler’s Meat & Sausage Co. and Bellingham Marine Industries have all left the city, while rumors swirl that more could be on the way.
Outgoing president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Economic Development Council Rob Pochert, who did not have his contract extended this year, said last month he fears what may happen if the anti-business perception persists.
“Unless business can grow and prosper, the local economy can stagnate or encourage businesses already here to go somewhere else,” he said.
6. The changing face of Fairhaven
A hippie haven no longer, after decades of inactivity, Fairhaven is becoming rather sophisticated.
Condo/retail projects such as 12th Street Village and Harris Square were completed, while others, such as Fairhaven Harbor, Mckenzie Square and the Waldron Building redevelopment were announced. Meanwhile, businesses, such as boutiques and restaurants, seemed to cater to a more upscale clientele.
Said Jackie Lynch, the city’s lead Fairhaven planner in October: “You hardly ever see people playing hacky sack in front of the Terminal Building anymore, which used to be a 12- to 16-hour game. Now, I think we’re seeing the character of Fairhaven change again. I’m certainly not enough of a sociologist to say what direction it’s going to go in, but as these new units are built, you’re going to have people who can afford to live in these units walking down the streets.”
Also in Fairhaven, condos and businesses creeping down Harris Avenue are encroaching on the area’s working waterfront and some in the community warned that living and working next to industrial businesses isn’t for everybody.
Said former Port of Bellingham real estate and planning director Bill Hager in March: “Some people want it absolutely quiet, and on a working waterfront that doesn’t happen. I hope newcomers are aware of the history of the area.”
7. Pioneer Plaza proposal
If approved, the proposed Pioneer Plaza would be the largest project in the history of Ferndale.
The residential-office-retail development is planned for 100 acres on the south side of Axton Road just east of Interstate 5. The project is estimated to cost nearly $300 million, and could create around 3,000 jobs.
The development has, however, faced opposition by Ferndale residents, the Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council. The developers recently responded to opponents’ concerns by cutting the project’s square footage and adding more open space.
Opponents fear the project — larger than Bellingham’s Bellis Fair mall — would have a negative impact on responsible growth, and could potentially damage Ferndale’s downtown economy.
The Ferndale City Council recently approved a temporary commercial building ban, blocking the development while it is studied further.
8. The Met Mortgage scandal
Trillium Corp. of Bellingham was named in the Metropolitan Mortgage case filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The civil suit accuses the company, and its president and CEO David Syre, of fraud related to the financial collapse and scandal at Metropolitan Mortgage and Securities.
The SEC claims a real estate deal involving a company under Trillium and Metropolitan Mortgage allowed Trillium to buy Metropolitan Mortgage real estate with funds from Metropolitan Mortgage. That deal, along with others, allowed Metropolitan Mortgage to circulate its money during transactions and note false financial gains in 2002, which hid the losses incurred by the company.
Investors in Metropolitan Mortgage, which filed for bankruptcy in 2004, took a large financial hit as they unknowingly kept their money in a company that was losing money.
Trillium is currently waiting for the SEC’s next move in the case.
9. Mount Baker’s winter drought
The Mt. Baker Ski Area, along with many others in the Northwest, saw warm weather and rain instead of snow last winter, which severely watered-down its ski season.
In addition, the ski area was also forced to cancel its Legendary Banked Slalom, a three-day snowboard event drawing hundreds of spectators, professional snowboarders and amateur participants.
The lack of skiers was not only felt on the mountain, but in Glacier and along the Mt. Baker Highway as well.
Businesses in Bellingham that depend on the “white gold” also saw business drop as winter storms were absent from sunny skies.
10. Fairhaven Ridge
The proposed 85-acre Fairhaven Ridge subdivision development has caused quite a stir among the many Bellingham and Fairhaven residents who want to curb growth.
Signs resembling those of a political campaign have been seen in windows, on lawns and along Chuckanut Drive, where the 739-home development is proposed.
The project, proposed by David Edelstein, president of Greenbriar Construction, and financed by Horizon Bank, remains on hold for now as developers are finalizing the design of the development, which may be built on some wetland areas, pending approval, before moving forward.
— Kenny Brown and J.J. Jensen
Compared to a bustling metropolis, Bellingham doesn’t have as many chances to draw the national media. But, despite ongoing big-city events and the increased probability of stories within the urban masses, the area routinely makes the national scene. Whether the attention was generated by spunky citizens or the chaos of the cosmos, here are the Bellingham-related stories that landed on the nation’s newsstands.
Headlines on the border
Whatcom County’s northern border with British Columbia tipped off reporters more than once this year.
Last summer a drug-smuggling tunnel running under the border to a Lynden home was seized and destroyed by authorities. The tunnel had been observed by Canadian and U.S. authorities for several months before moving in. The bust resulted in three men being arrested for their alleged involvement.
In their ongoing efforts to secure America’s borders, the Minutemen, a border-watching group of civilian volunteers, stationed members at the northern border several days this year, turning the heads of citizens, politicians, and the media.
The Minutemen, which charge the government with poorly securing U.S. borders from illegal immigration and crime, had to again fight off critics’ charges of having a racist agenda. The group maintains their intent is merely to protect America from social and economic damage.
Making political headlines id the upcoming implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which could potentially require travelers to have a passport to cross North American borders. Although the regulations, passed in a federal intelligence reform bill in late 2004, won’t affect land crossings until 2008, the business community believes a passport requirement will hamper the U.S. economy, especially in communities near the border. In response, the business community has mounted an effort to publicize the issue and work with lawmakers to find an alternative solution.
Although it’s not a positive reason to be noticed, crime always attracts the nation’s attention.
Last September, Anthony Mullen turned himself in to police after a seven-day man hunt, for his alleged involvement in the shootings of two convicted sex offenders.
Mullen faces two counts of murder and is pleading not guilty to the crimes despite admitting to them during his first court appearance.
Also on the crime beat, an ongoing effort by law enforcement authorities to thwart actions by the Banditos motorcycle gang came to a head last summer, as 300 state, local, and federal law enforcement officers stormed Whatcom County and other western communities, making arrests and serving search warrants.
In all, 26 members of the gang, some of the key members reportedly from the Bellingham area, were served with a list of charges including racketeering, assault, kidnapping and drug offenses and firearm violations. Government officials used confidential informants, wiretaps and videotape to gather evidence for the case they hope will finally stop the long-time illegal activities of the gang, which has members throughout the Northwest.
Local politics; national coverage
Tied up in national media coverage this year were Bellingham businesses, and voters.
Bellingham voters used their political voices in 2005 to decide if fluoride would be added to the city’s water supply. The bill’s advocates promoted the health benefits of fluoride, and opponents noted the elimination of personal health choices and added costs. In the end, the issue to include fluoride was narrowly voted down.
Businesses make big headlines
As part of a larger national deal, media-industry giants Knight Ridder and Gannett swapped several holdings this year including The Bellingham Herald. Knight Ridder, based in San Jose, Calif., is now owner of the Herald and The Olympian in Washington’s capital. Ironically, shortly thereafter, a shareholder has pushed Knight Ridder into considering selling off its newspaper assets, and one of companies most interested in buying is Gannett.
In big business, Georgia-Pacific was acquired for more than $13 billion this fall by Koch Industries. As a result of the transaction, Koch, a commodities conglomerate, made Georgia-Pacific its subsidiary in the deal, which created the nation’s largest privately owned company. The sale did not affect the Bellingham tissue mill.
Executive Director Jim Darling admits 2005 was a memorable year for the Port of Bellingham.
After all, the port:
• Attracted a new airline to fly out of Bellingham International Airport and upgraded the airport’s terminal and baggage area.
• Hired a virtual who’s who of top personnel from around the area.
• Took steps toward beginning master planning work on the Georgia-Pacific property.
• Established an advisory group to help serve as a community voice in guiding the future of the waterfront.
• Was named the Washington Public Ports Association’s Port of the Year.
“It’s been busy,” said Darling.
Around town last year, the future of Bellingham’s waterfront and the 137-acre Georgia-Pacific site, which the port officially acquired last January, often dominated conversations.
Initial visions for the property include a new city neighborhood, with shops, housing, light industry, parks and trails.
Since acquiring the property, now referred to as New Whatcom, the port has developed numerous partnerships to aid in the redevelopment of the site in the coming years.
Entities working with the port include:
• The city, which helped create the Waterfront Advisory Group, a 10-member citizens committee dedicated to ensuring the principles outlined by the disbanded Waterfront Future Group are respected in future developments.
• Western Washington University, which funded a study determining ways it could benefit from a waterfront presence.
• The Department of Natural Resources, which agreed to help the port straighten out landholdings along the waterfront.
• The Lummi Nation, which will help identify ways to develop the property.
While details on major environmental cleanup projects could still be unknown for about another year, after the Department of Ecology makes its determinations, demolition of G-P buildings on the site is already under way.
G-P has demolished six of the 19 buildings it committed to bring down and more than 5 million pounds of metals have already been recycled from the site, Darling said.
In preparing to develop the site, the port last year hired Seattle consulting firm CollinsWoerman to develop strategic guidelines for waterfront development, although many residents urged that the process be done in a more deliberate manner and not be rushed.
Official master planning of the site, which is about to be rezoned from heavy industrial to mixed use, will likely begin in April or May, Darling said. LMN Architects, of Seattle, will be charged with developing drawings for different uses and structures.
“Hopefully, by September or October we’ll have developed an agreement with the city, defining development standards and heights and have buildings defined,” Darling said.
Elsewhere on the waterfront, the port last year renewed leases with major employers Fairhaven Shipyard and Aluminum Chambered Boats, and administered a trial passenger ferry run from Bellingham to Friday Harbor.
A major goal on the waterfront in 2006, Darling said, will be renewing a contract with the state of Alaska for continuing to include Bellingham in the Alaska Marine Highway System. The contract expires in 2008.
The port, he said, would also like to move forward with additional development on Bellwether Way, specifically on the three acres of vacant land between the Hotel Bellwether and Anthony’s Restaurant. Last month, the port received proposals from six developers, with most suggesting a mix of retail and residential buildings on the site.
Away from the waterfront, at the airport, 2005 was also a momentous year.
Just a little more than a year after announcing its intention of bringing in another commercial airline that would fly to destinations other than Seattle, the port announced last month that it had entered into a terminal lease with startup Western Airlines, a corporation founded by Skagit County aviation veterans Jerry Welch and Curt Tronsdal.
Western Air, which joins Allegiant Air and Horizon Air as commercial airlines flying out of the airport, will most likely offer service on MD-80 series planes, which can accommodate more than 150 passengers.
Western Air officials, who are currently working to obtain FAA certification for scheduled passenger service status, a process that could take 12 to 18 months, have said they hope to be offering flights from Bellingham by this spring. Most likely, they would operate at first with another company’s planes and crews, but under the Western Air colors.
The airline is also determining destinations for its Bellingham hub. Last month, Welch said he was considering destinations in California, Arizona and Alaska.
Over the next two years, Welch said, the airline could add as many as 250 employees, and will likely need to move into a headquarters with as much as 40,000 square feet of office space.
Also at the airport last year, the port performed some of the most significant improvements to facilities since it assumed operations from the county in the 1950s.
Projects, totaling more than $3 million, included upgrades and repairs to the baggage-handling area, the main terminal’s entryway and roof, and taxiways “E” and “F.”
“Our big goal at the airport for ’06,” Darling said, “is to work with the state and Air Force to get back the Air National Guard site that’s been empty for a couple years. Our intent is to develop it into an air park and create hangar space.”
While the port was busy in Bellingham, it was also engaged in projects on its properties elsewhere in the county last year.
In Blaine, said Darling, the port was involved in the redevelopment of the waterfront area, assessing its properties there and determining what comes next. In Sumas, it continued to work with lumber manufacturers in an attempt to create job opportunities.
Achievements at the port this year came as some key longtime employees moved on and high-profile newcomers were welcomed in.
Bill Hager, who was with the port for more than a decade, serving as its director of planning and property management, retired and started a consulting firm. Steve Jilk, director of marine services, meanwhile, accepted the general-manager position with Whatcom County Public Utility District No. 1.
Replacing the veterans, respectively, were Lydia Bennett, founder of Saratoga Commercial Real Estate, and Dan Stahl, executive director for the Port of Anacortes.
Also joining the port last year, as its new planning and development director, was Sylvia Goodwin, Whatcom County’s Planning Division manager.
Darling doesn’t anticipate operations slowing down at the port this year.
“It’s been real hectic and we had turnover in some of our senior staff, so new folks have been coming on board, but we have great people here and it’s been exciting,” he said.
Last year’s rookies enter 2006 as seasoned veterans
With a year under their belts and the knowledge that perhaps the most difficult times are behind them, a few local business owners share some of the experiences that kept them hopping in ‘05.
In the days just prior to opening Jeckyl & Hyde Deli and Ale House this spring, Brenda Topel believed she had everything under control.
The hours of operation were established. Food portions were set. Employees had been hired.
And then opening day came.
“You think you have everything figured out, but you don’t,” said Topel, recently, with a laugh, as she recounted the first few days and weeks at her restaurant, which she owns with her husband, Rod, in the former Orchard Street Brewery location. “As much as you plan, there are things that will come up that you never thought of.”
Despite some initial long hours and sleepless nights, Topel said, she and her husband have learned to deal with the unpredictability that comes with being a business owner and are now preparing for their second year in business.
In making it through year one, Topel has survived what many business leaders consider the most-difficult stretch for business owners.
Of the 35 businesses featured in The Bellingham Business Journal’s Business Births section last year, 85 percent are still operating. Here are some lessons learned by several rookie business owners.
What should new business owners be aware of during their first few weeks?
Like Topel, Jessica Selfridge, who opened Short Stop Espresso in the Cordata Place Cost Cutter in July, said her biggest surprise with starting her own business was how many changes she had to make soon after opening.
“I came in with my hours and menu and everything set, and pretty much half of it has changed,” said Selfridge, 23, who operates the espresso stand in addition to pursuing her master’s degree in elementary education at Western Washington University.
Tom Traibush, who opened Fairhaven Pizza Co. last December, said new business owners would be wise to “double the unknowns.”
“Whether it’s repairing your mixer, your oven goes south, or a pipe breaks — every month there’ll be something unexpected,” he said.
Topel, who’d never been a boss before, said one of her biggest challenges was learning how to relate to employees.
“You can’t expect everybody to work the same way you do and you have to know that everyone approaches work with a slightly different outlook,” she said. “You have to learn how to work with employees and empower them to do things and realize everybody has a different motivator and needs to be motivated in different ways.”
Topel said new business owners should also be aware of slow days and not get too worried about them — especially in the restaurant business.
“No two days are the same,” she said. “You’re going to have days that are really busy and other days that aren’t. We kind of expected business would be a little more even-keel, but you can’t beat yourself up if one day is slow, because the next day might be completely different.”
How do you identify and implement change?
The best way to determine what changes are needed, Selfridge said, is to monitor customers’ habits and listen to their feedback.
For example, she said, since not many people do their grocery shopping in the early morning, and there aren’t many other businesses that open early around her, she pushed back her stand’s starting time from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Conversely, since many people shop in the evenings after work, she extended her closing time to later in the evening.
Selfridge said she also tries to take customers’ suggestions into consideration whenever possible.
Originally, she said, she was mainly providing beverages, but many customers told her they wanted her business to be more like a café, with bagels and sandwiches.
“I was kind of hesitant of having sandwiches, but as soon as I went with it, it totally helped the business,” she said.
Traibush said he listens to what his customers who live and work closest to his restaurant desire and keeps an eye on what his competitors are up to.
For example, he said, originally he wasn’t going to offer delivery, but soon realized not many other restaurants in his area provided that service. Now, he offers local delivery, which has been well received by many business owners in Fairhaven.
When seeking feedback on her business, Topel, in addition to talking with patrons, said she turns to a group of her closest friends.
“We have good friends who frequent the business and ask them to be honest,” she said.
Evelyn Turner, who in Nov. 2004 founded The Easy Entrée, a business that readies home-cooked meals for customers by completing most of the prep work, said she has several ways of tracking customers’ response to her business.
Along with creating a focus group, Turner has a feedback form she sends home with all customers and a survey for them to fill out online. She then enters responses in Excel software.
“It’s one thing to know what sells well, but it’s another thing to really get people’s feedback on their experience with the food,” she said.
Outsourcing accounting also provides clues to how the business is running, Turner said.
“You get someone independent who is willing to talk about what works and what doesn’t,” she said.
What were some of the most important lessons learned during the first year?
Once you feel comfortable with how your business is running, said Turner, you can’t let people forget about it.
“It sounds basic, but you have to continue to market yourself and get the word out,” she said. “If you expect people to keep coming, you have to continue to advertise. If you look around at longtime businesses in the area, like DeWaard & Bode, they continue to advertise. You can’t take your eye off the ball if you’re going to continue to grow your business.”
While he’s “not a schmoozer guy,” Traibush said it’s also important to get plugged into different business associations and get involved in community events.
In joining groups like the Fairhaven Business Association, and giving away free slices at events like the Fairhaven Outdoor Cinema, he said he’s been able to meet and learn from other business owners and create some name recognition for his restaurant.
Traibush said it’s also critical to reward employees for jobs well done and explain to them what needs to be done differently when there’s a mistake.
Recognition, he said, can include bonuses, raises or treats like a root beer float or birthday lunch. And “more praising and less bitching” often leads to happier employees.
“Your employees deal with the public more than you do so they’re going to be the impression people walk away with,” he said. “It’s important to keep your employees in a good mood because customers can tell when they’re not in a good environment.”
Above all else, many new business owners say not to let the business consume your life.
“It took me until last month to realize it, but everything’s going to be OK,” said Selfridge. “No matter what goes
wrong, it’s never that bad. A crisis is always fixable.”
Suggests Topel: “Don’t let work overtake your life and maintain some of the things you enjoy. Read. Sit in a hot tub and relax. And try to keep in contact with family and friends because they keep you grounded.”
Name: Fred Bovenkamp
Former Lynden city councilman Fred Bovenkamp quietly worked on a host of new projects in 2005, including the purchase of the former Hempler’s location in Old Town, which he and his partners are planning to develop into a mixed-use site, as well as a number of north-county residential developments in the Semiahmoo area.
Sitting in a leather chair during the holiday season, in his new company headquarters on East Bakerview Road, local real estate developer Fred Bovenkamp said he had plenty to be happy about from the past year.
After all, in addition to preparing to open Elements Design Center, a new home-interiors business, he was involved with more than a dozen building projects and property acquisitions and sales around the county.
However, said the 48-year-old “country boy from Lynden,” he was carrying what he was most pleased about in his pocket — a Christmas card from his oldest daughter, thanking him for all the hard work he does.
“It’s probably the most satisfying thing to me,” he said. “Her saying how proud she was of me meant so much.”
While Bovenkamp, a former Lynden city councilman, has been a busy man since selling the family business, Westside Building Supply, in 2003, and starting Fred Bovenkamp Ventures LLC, 2005 was a banner year.
Early in the year, he and business partner Charles Lewsader sold around 40 acres in the Cordata area to national homebuilder D.R. Horton for more than $12 million.
Last summer, with Charly Myers and Mike Campion, he purchased the Hempler’s B&B Meat & Sausage Company in Old Town for $600,000, with plans to redevelop the site to include 21 lofts and some commercial space. The trio also purchased a 30,000-square-foot site at D Street and Bancroft Street, with plans to develop 80 condominium units there.
Other high-profile active projects Bovenkamp is involved with include:
• The Horizons at Semiahmoo, with Peter Horne and Jim Kaemingk, a 150-acre plat expected to contain 450 housing units.
• Horizons Village at Semiahmoo, with Horne and Kaemingk, a 37-acre tract planned for residential and commercial development.
• Gleneagle Villas at Semiahmoo, with Craig Engels, planned for 18 condominium units.
• The Greens at Loomis Trail, Phase II, with Lewsader, approved for 31 single family lots.
• Malibu Estates, with Lewsader, a 101-lot subdivision in Birch Bay.
Bovenkamp said had it not been for becoming reacquainted with longtime family friend and Trillium Corp. President David Syre in 2003, he may not have gone into real estate development. Syre, however, took him under his wing and turned him on to properties with great potential.
“He re-opened so many doors for me,” Bovenkamp said. “He’s a man who can provide great inspiration. He has great vision but also cares about others.”
Under Syre’s tutelage, Bovenkamp said he’s learned to surround himself with good partners on projects and credits his assistants, bankers, engineers, lawyers, accountants and others for much of his success.
While his resume grew rapidly this year, Bovenkamp said the biggest challenge of his busy lifestyle was the amount of time away from his family.
“I’ve kind of had to justify it in that I hope I’m building a legacy for my family,” he said. “My wife has supported me by picking up the slack at home with the kids, shuttling them here and there, and attending the ball games and events that I couldn’t. She’s always been behind the scenes on my behalf.”
— J.J. Jensen
Name: Anne-Marie Faiola
Anne-Marie Faiola has built her Bramble Berry Inc. from a “business” she ran out of her home on a maxed-out credit card to a thriving Internet-based soap-making empire grossing more than $2 million a year with a retail store, Otion, on Railroad Avenue.
Anne-Marie Faiola has moxie.
The characteristic is what helped the 28-year-old owner of soap-making supplies company Bramble Berry Inc. reach new heights in her industry. It’s also what helped her bounce back nearly a decade ago after her original goal of working in the criminal justice field proved to be a poor fit for her.
Eight years ago, having just graduated from St. Martin’s College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Faiola was working at a local work-release facility. On her watch, one of the residents signed out for the day, hopped a bus to Seattle, bought drugs and brought them back to the residence. All the while, she was none the wiser.
“I was kind of like, ‘Wow, I’m not really cut out for this and this isn’t what I want to be doing on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
So she fell back on a fun and creative hobby she discovered as a 16-year-old — soap making.
“Within three weeks of doing this, I realized I was purchasing all the materials to make my soap from the East Coast,” she said. “I figured there had to be other people out there like me who made soap. With that in mind, I took a leap of faith, put $15,000 worth of supplies on a credit card and had 2,000 pounds of soap sitting in my living room. In another two weeks I was on the Internet selling to other soap makers on the West Coast.”
Today, Bramble Berry is located in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse on Humboldt Street, employs 20 people, grosses around $2 million per year in revenue, and has more than 2,500 products associated with its name.
In 2004, the company gained its most exposure ever.
Last summer, it acquired Cybilla, a fragrance company. Faiola, meanwhile, now recognized as a soap-making guru, appeared on television grograms, such as the Home Shopping Network, and in home-and-garden publications, promoting her products. On the Internet, she began a soap-making column, “Ask Anne-Marie,” on TeachSoap.com.
“I really enjoy teaching and interacting with people so I’ve been asked to give talks around the country, on subjects from the marketing to the technical aspects of the business,” she said. “It’s so energizing and so much fun to be able to proselytize how cool soap making is. Since I’m so passionate about it and know way more than most normal people ever should, I get asked to do different things.”
Locally, Faiola’s been busy as well.
On Railroad Avenue, where her retail store, Otion, is located, she’s worked to bring attention to city, county and law-enforcement officials — through letters, meetings and photographing illegal activities — the situation with ongoing problems on the block, such as drug use, violence and prostitution.
Faiola also joined the Bellingham Bay Foundation, a citizen’s group focused on keeping the Georgia-Pacific site in public ownership, creating innovative economic development and ensuring a thorough site cleanup.
And when she wasn’t involved with business or community activities, Faiola also worked toward completing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Birthing of Giants program, a course giving young entrepreneurs the chance to learn from renowned business owners and professors.
Faiola notes her accomplishments wouldn’t happen without her employees, however.
“They do everything to make it seem like I’m prepared,” she said.
— J.J. Jensen
Name: Bob Pritchett
Bob Pritchett, CEO of Logos Bible Software, has grown his company to more than 100 empoyees since it moved to Bellingham from Oak Harbor four years ago.
Bob Pritchett, president and CEO of Logos Bible Software, always knew there was a niche for his product. As a churchgoer with a Christian education and a computer-industry background — including work at Microsoft — offering electronic bibles and related reference material in lieu of books seemed to be a logical step in the religious studies market.
In expanding Logos, established in 1992 by Pritchett and a partner, he has figured out who his key customers are and how to design the company’s digital library to suit them. Establishing these concepts has been important in achieving success. He said
Logos now tailors its multilingual electronic books, software and tools to pastors and those training to be pastors.
When designing new products, Pritchett said reacting to direct requests from customers is something he has learned not to do. Instead, the company improves its products on a broader scale. By taking this tact, he said the company can build products that last for many years, because future concerns have been addressed.
The company, which has grown to about 100 employees after moving from Oak Harbor to Bellingham four years ago, is constantly releasing new electronic books, said Pritchett, who estimates 1,000 books were released in 2005.
“We’re building a really compelling digital library where everything is at your fingertips,” he said. The software developed by the company is unique because it speeds text searching functions by using reports to aid its users, he said.
Logos has recently taken a step past adding licensed texts to its product line, and began investing in creating its own works, resulting in the hiring of more employees. To get the new material, Logos is commissioning scholars to develop new works, something Pritchett said has not been done much before.
According to Pritchett, scholarship funding in original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and the humanities is hard to come by as many companies will not fund it, resulting in translation and syntactic analysis projects taking years to complete. Logos is now funding 35 scholars around the world to create new electronic books at a much faster pace.
“We’re accelerating study and having an effect on the way people teach the original languages,” said Pritchett. He said Logos software is becoming something academic programs are standardizing their curriculum around, because it increases the amount of work students can do by speeding their access to information.
The company’s rise, which Pritchett attributes in part to the hiring of talented employees after moving to Bellingham, along with its new risks, earned him the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Pacific Northwest for 2005.
The award was in some way about learning, and building from early mistakes, said Pritchett.
With some real-world market research behind it, Logos, which recently expanded their downtown Bellingham offices, is sitting at the forefront of its industry and driving innovation. The company saw 12 percent financial growth this year, which is actually down a bit from the past couple years. But Pritchett is not complaining, as the company has seen steady growth since coming to Bellingham. “We’ve had a number of good years in a row.”
— Kenny Brown
Name: Larry Wieber
Business is booming for Larry Wieber and Aluminum Chambered Boats, so much so that he is finding it tough to hire enough qualified people to fill his positions as the company grows. Wieber said he may hire as many 35 more workers in the next 90 days to fill the orders he already has.
Last February, Aluminum Chambered Boats (ACB) was voted by BBJ readers as the local company “Most likely to boom in the next three years.” Voters got one thing right, ACB has certainly been gaining momentum in the choppy waters of the boat market. As for the company’s rise taking three years, readers might want to point their binoculars toward Bellingham Bay, because ACB is riding high in the water right now, with CEO Larry Wieber at the helm.
Wieber started ACB in 1999, with three employees and a small warehouse. He admits the early years were slow for ACB, which he still refers to as “a little Bellingham boat-building company.”
In its infancy, ACB was building boats for recreational boaters and charter-boat captains that would be an alternative to the 14-foot to 17-foot inflatable-boat market.
“There was a niche in the market for a better boat; designs hadn’t changed much in 40 years,” said Wieber, a self-described boat junkie. The unique use of airtight aluminum chambers, a catamaran-style hull, and a deep-V that extends to the stern make an ACB a durable, extremely safe, fuel-efficient boat that can ride through heavy seas on top of the water, said Wieber.
It took a video demonstration at the San Diego boat show in 2002, however, before ACB’s design was discovered by what is now one of the company’s main markets — the military and goverment agencies. The company’s video showed a boat being dropped 35 feet onto concrete, having holes drilled into it, and finally being thrown off a jetty into the water. The video caused quite a stir at the show, said Wieber, and one of the people taking notice was a Special Warfare Systems Commander from the U.S. Navy, who Wieber said was thoroughly impressed with the safety of ACB’s boats. With the military tipped off to ACB’s unique designs, interest from the U.S. Border Patrol and other government agencies soon followed.
The discovery of ACB’s new market forced Wieber to adapt to the demands of building larger boats; today ACB builds boats from 20 to 32 feet in length.
The business boost from the military sparked momentum that has stayed with ACB. Wieber credits the talents of his employees and the work of ACB president and COO, Tom Atchison, who Wieber said complements his visionary style of leadership with big-business skills.
The growing company has about 80 employees, 50 more than two years ago, and Wieber said he expects that number to grow to 100 early this year. ACB has also recently increased its manufacturing space from 30,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet, and hired new engineers. In addition, the company recently signed a new two-year deal with the Port of Bellingham, which Wieber said worked hard to accommodate his growing company.
The recent expansion of facilities and staff were needed to keep pace with the orders coming into ACB, said Wieber. This year the company is busy filling a $20 million dollar order to build 66 bridge erection boats for the U.S. Marines. ACB was also awarded contracts this year from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, and built an oil-response recovery vessel for ConocoPhillips.
The company almost doubled its business in 2005 over 2004, and expects to triple it for 2006, based on confirmed orders, which Wieber said will carry into 2007.
Recently, ACB also refocused on the retail market, adding dealers and selling to charter services and recreational boaters, said Wieber.
Heading into 2006, ACB has an all-new line of boats, a backing of private investors and the manufacturing space to support growth. The company is also currently closing on a contract with Ocean Futures, a nonprofit run by Jean-Michel Cousteau, to build boats which will be featured in several upcoming PBS TV specials.
“Pretty good for a little Bellingham boat-building company,” said Wieber.
— Kenny Brown
Residential Sales of 2005
$2,112,500: 545 Marine Drive, Point Roberts
Seller: William and Allyson Whyte
Buyer: Barbara Hislop and and George and Barbara Peat
Two-story house, 8,492 square foot house, with 125 feet of waterfront space on 1.81 acres of land.
$2,000,000: 6161 Birch Point Road, Blaine
Seller: Capella Co-Creations, LLC and Haniel, LLC
Buyer: Beachmont, LLC
Two houses on property. One 2-story, 5,485 square foot house and a 1-story, 884 square foot house with waterfront space.
$1,850,000: 320 Bayside Road, Bellingham
Seller: Leslie Nelson
Buyer: Zwi and Diana Pechthalt
1-story, 2,509 square foot house with marine views.
$1,450,000: 330 Bayside Road, Bellingham
Seller: Dan Tripps and Anne Hanel
Buyer: Bayside Cottage, LLC (Bellevue, Wash.)
2-story, 1,966 square foot house with marine views.
$1,400,000: 2165 N. Shore Road, Bellingham
Seller: Richard and Loretta Kelly
Buyer: Casey O’Keefe and Karen Davis O’Keefe
1-story, 1,698 square foot house with marine views.
$1,300,000: 3199 N. Shore Road, Bellingham
Seller: Gary and Marguerite Hovde
Buyer: Jonathan and Ginny Hansen
One-and-a-half story, 2,015 square foot house with beach access and marine views.
$1,300,000: 1815 Old Samish Rd, Bellingham
Seller: Thomas and Lori Geare (Fountain Hills Az.)
Buyer: Gerald and Katherine Thramer
1-story, 3,624 square foot house on 14.02 acres of land
$1,250,000: 608 Bayside Road, Bellingham
Seller: Frances Lumm and Lee Hendricksen (Shoreline)
Buyer: William and Paula Maris
1-story, 2,647 square foot house with marine views.
$1,200,000: 2325 Hendrickson Rd, Ferndale
Seller: Bakerview Holdings LLC
Buyer: Canyon Holdings LLC
Two houses on property, a one-and-a-half story, 1,023 square foot house and a 1-story, 1,924 square foot house on 6.62 acres of land.
$1,200,000: 8379 Oertel Drive, Blaine
Seller: Jean and Carolyn Fraley
Buyer: Carl and Diane Dufton
One-and-a-half story, 2,532 square foot house with waterfront access and marine views.
Building Permits of 2005
1440 10th St., for a four-story mixed-use commercial building with offices, retail, 60-unit apartment and parking garages. Owner: 10th & McKenzie LP. Contractor: Exxcel Pacific.
Western Washington University, $5.5 million for commercial renovation of an existing dormitory. Owner: Western Washington University. Applicant: Ambia Enduring Architecture.
506-508 S. State St., for new multi-family building with four units and attached garages, Thomas Park Place Residences. Owner: Frank & Madelyn Thomas. Contractor: Peterson Construction Inc.
690 32nd St., for 48 residential units. Owner: SeaBell LLC. Contractor: Bailey Built.
1905 Kentucky St., for a commercial warehouse. Owner: Grizzly Industrial. Contractor: Pearson Construction.
807-81 10th St.,for 12-unit condos. Contractor: Wellman & Zuck.
1212-1216 Old Fairhaven Parkway, for a 16-unit multifamily building.
Owner: 12th St. Village LLC. Contractor: Nord Northwest Construction.
700 N. State St., for a 19-unit apartment building. Owner: Richard Buttine. Contractor: Greenbriar Construction.
112 E. Maple St. for a five-story, mixed-use building. Owner: Morse Square condos. Contractor: West-Lind Construction.
1026 22nd St., for a 20-unit apartment complex. Owner: Cascade Land Development. Contractor: Owner.
Contracts of 2005
Tiger Construction for Bellingham Technical College’s Welding Repair Technology Center.
IMCO General Construction for Terminal improvements.
IMCO General for the Heritage Recreation Center at South Hill.
Ebenal General for a juvenile detention center project.
Impero Contracting Inc. for Agricultural Research and Technology Building at Northwest Washington and Extension Center.
IMCO General Construction for Stillaguamish River Wastewater Treatment Plant.
IMCO General Construction for 12th Street Marina upland work.
Friberg Construction for Lynden’s water system improvements.
Dawson Construction for Port Townsend city hall improvements.
IMCO General Construction for Hawks Prairie’s water pumping system.
Commercial Sales of 2005
$30,000,000: 411 W. Chestnut Street, Bellingham
Approximately 225 acres of waterfront property
Seller: Georgia-Pacific West, Inc.
Buyer: Port of Bellingham
$6,000,000: 2980 Squalicum Parkway, Bellingham
12 Bellingham Day Surgery Condominiums
Seller: Joan Schwindt
Buyer: Bellingham BSC, LLC
$4,500,000: 4856, 4876 Birch Bay Lynden Rd., Blaine
Birch Bay Waterslides, office and amusement arcade.
Seller: Birch Bay Holdings, Ltd.
Buyer: Homestar Northwest, LLC
$4,000,000: 1700 Iowa Street, Bellingham
Iowa Street Business Center
Seller: MSG Properties
Buyer: Iowa Street, LLC
$3,739,165: 2600 Alderwood Avenue, Bellingham
Two story, 72 unit apartment building.
Seller: Country Squire Apartments, LLC
Buyer: Astoria Partners, Ltd.
$3,196,258: 5655 Third Street, Ferndale
17,000 square foot store, remodeled in 2004 and 2005.
Seller: Baldridge Ferndale, LLC
Buyer: M & L Financial Properties, Inc.
$3,000,000: 1300 North Forest Street, Bellingham
Three story office building
Seller: Mountain Bay Plaza, LLC
Buyer: Newill, LLC
$2,855,358: 1963 Kok Road/Guide Meridian, Lynden
Tractor Service Center
Seller: Brim Properties, LLC
Thrifty Payless, Inc.
$2,600,000: 3538 Northwest Avenue, Bellingham
Five apartment buildings with a total of 44 units.
Seller: Cottage Creek, LLC
Buyer: Cottage Creek Investment Groups, LLC
$2,592,500: 3400 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer
Shopping center/ outlet mall
Seller: LaSalle Bank National Association
Buyer: Far North Ventures, LLC
Bellingham has seen some strong business growth this past year, as the seeds of new businesses seem to be sprouting all over town. The community did, however, have to say goodbye to some longtime storefronts and establishments. Meet some of the more interesting new faces, and wave a heavy-handed farewell to some old friends.
Outside the box
It’s easy to follow your own path, adding a few unique twists along the way, but to really get outside the box requires some guts and a good idea, both of which some new businesses displayed this year.
Evelyn Turner launched a new venture, The Easy Entrée, which provides customers with the tools and ingredients to quickly prepare a week’s worth of nutritious meals, which are then frozen until use, eliminating the hassles of cooking.
Honey Moon, became Bellingham’s first meadery this past year, producing an alcoholic beverage the company makes from locally produced honey.
Although based in Canada, Hemptown Clothing Inc., a maker of hemp clothing, entered Whatcom County in 2005, setting up a distribution facility in Blaine.
Serve it up
Bellingham has been known as a saturated restaurant market in recent years. In 2005 the gravy kept flowing from the boat, as more restaurants opened and began taking orders.
Downtown restaurants opening this year included Wasabi, Chiribin’s and Wing Dome. In Fairhaven, Flats Tapas Bar, All American Deli, Fairhaven Pizza Company and Big Fat Fish Co. opened. In the north part of town, Jeckyl & Hyde Deli took over the former Orchard Street Brewery space while Boston Pizza is now tossing dough at Bellis Fair mall.
Back and better than ever
One day things are electric, the next day everything shorts out. Two local restaurants know what it’s like to see business go dark, followed by the return of the light.
After being closed since 2001, the owners of Carol’s Coffee Cup, Kathy Hillard and sister Susie O’Connor, have reopened their family’s restaurant, now called Carol’s Girls Café, on the Mount Baker Highway in Deming. Since the restaurant’s closure, the two had been running Carol’s Girls Catering.
Late last year, Giuseppe Mauro saw fire destroy his restaurant, Giuseppe’s, on Commercial Street. In 2005 he quickly bounced back, remodeling a historic downtown building (the former Elks Lodge, built in 1912) and reopening Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant less than a year after the blaze.
Look out, Pike Place
Although it could never rival Seattle’s famed waterfront market in size, Bellingham now has a year-round public market. The Bellingham Public Market opened to vendors and shoppers this past May in the former Safeway building on Cornwall Avenue next to Tube Time. About half the vendors in the market were starting new ventures. Everything from coffee and ice cream to pastries and organic foods can be found in the 14,000-square-foot space.
A third commercial airline carrier will soon fly out of Bellingham International Airport. Western Air, which may be in flight as soon as this spring, signed a terminal lease with the Port of Bellingham, and is looking at routes to California, Alaska and Arizona. The airline also estimates it will add 250 jobs in 2006. The company plans to a lease a large headquarters space from the Port of Bellingham within the next two years.
Big and getting bigger
T-Mobile is moving up on the list of Bellingham’s largest employers list. The company made plans in September to begin hiring 100 new employees, upping the cellular phone company’s local workforce to 450.
In addition, the company invested in a million-dollar renovation of its Bakerview Road call center.
Two longtime Bellingham watering holes rang the closing bell for the last time in 2005.
After being served with several liquor violations in past years, and becoming a regular stop for police patrols, Railroad Avenue’s Station Pub served its last drink in 2005.
Going out in style, the 3B Tavern said its goodbyes during a 2006 New Year’s Eve celebration. In typical fashion, the bar featured live music on its last night; the State Street tavern was known as an instrumental player in crafting Bellingham’s independent music scene, providing a venue that attracted and helped launch many acts.
Fewer mouths to feed
The Fairhaven B&B, located on 12th Street, will not be taking reservations for the new year. Owners Terry and Kitty Todd have hung up their aprons and will only make their own beds from now on.
The two will continue to live in their Fairhaven home, from which they ran the bed and breakfast since 1994. Come holiday time next year, however, don’t expect any change in the house’s traditional façade of lights.
On the block of East Bellis Fair where Toys R Us is located, two empty giants stand, soon to be joined by a third, as Toys R Us recently announced it will close this spring.
Good Guys, a national electronics chain, followed the route of its former neighbor, Home Base, and closed up shop this past year. The closing was part of the company’s elimination of four Washington locations. The space has been vacant since the store’s exit.
Across the parking lot, the former Home Base site saw some interest this year, but still remains without a tenant.
The 105,000-square-foot location was part of a prospective plan to be the new home of the Bellingham Athletic Club, as it was purchased by investors in 2003. On paper, a 70,000-square-foot exercise facility, which included two swimming pools, racquet ball and squash courts, a full-size gym and an exercise studio were expected to fill the space. The remaining areas were to be leased to fitness-related businesses. As planning for the project continued, legal issues between the owners surfaced, and soon after, for-lease signs were posted on the property.
The kitchen is closed
Two longtime Bellingham eateries are now gone. The Bob’s Burgers and Brew location in Fairhaven and The Calumet, located downtown, made an exit in 2005. Both restaurants had significant stays at their respective locations.
Stuart’s Coffee House, also a downtown fixture, closed after many years in business.
Fancy a Bite East Meets West on Chestnut Street, in business less than a year, made an exit after struggling to gain customers.
Only the core
The Bellingham Red Apple market, on James Street, closed after years of struggles to remain in its mid-sized niche, between mega-markets and convenience stores.
Rumors that a Trader Joe’s location or another grocer will take the space have circulated in recent months. Trader Joe’s has said they have no interest in the space, which remains empty; rumors continue to persist that the company is interested in Bellingham, however.
Has The Bellingham Weekly’s last edition hit newsstands? Amidst internal problems, including the firing of the staff, financial woes and a court battle between the paper’s editor and publisher, the newspaper recently published a small “hibernation” edition, stating the paper expects to be back in spring.
Time will tell if the embattled paper, now with publisher Doug Tolchin solely in charge, can resurrect itself, hire a new staff, and once again go to press.