A new future for Old Town

ReStore site will be BPDA’s first project

 

The former ReStore building could be the first major redevelopment project in Old Town, said city special projects manager Tara Sundin. The city, which owns the site, is working with the Bellingham Public Development Authority to build a mixed-use building. “If the market were better, Old Town would be ready to go,” Sundin said.

 

While the waterfront has received much of the public’s attention recently, the redevelopment of Old Town has slowly continued to push forward and will soon be spurred on by the newly appointed Bellingham Public Development Authority.

Last year, Old Town received a new sub-area plan that lays out new building heights and encourages the development of an urban village. It got a new prominent tenant, Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen, and another long-time tenant, Northwest Recycling, has agreed to look at moving within the next five years.

And just last month, demolition began on the old ReStore building along the Whatcom Creek waterway. Redevelopment of the site, purchased by the city in 2001, could be the first step toward attracting more development in Old Town. At least that is the hope, said Tara Sundin, the city’s special projects manager.

“If the market were better, Old Town would be ready to go,” Sundin said. “But as you know this isn’t the ideal time to put our site on the market for redevelopment. We would sure love to see something happen soon, though.”

The BPDA consists of seven board members appointed by the mayor with the task of leading the city on redeveloping the waterfront site and other city properties, such as the former ReStore. There aren’t any official plans for the ReStore site yet, but the city has received a grant to develop a mixed-use building, said city attorney Joan Hoisington, who has been advising the PDA on legal issues.

“It’s zoned for mixed use and it’s in a key place where we want to encourage mixed-use development,” Hoisington said.

 

David Bennink prepares to remove a window from the old ReStore building on Holly Street. Bennink is working with Western Refinery Services to recycle and reuse 50 percent of the materials in the building.

 

BPDA ownership vs. management

Hoisington is also working with city staff to determine the best way for the PDA to begin redevelopment work on the site, located at 600 W. Holly St. The two main options being discussed are:

A management agreement in which the city retains ownership and the PDA guides the redevelopment, or a transfer of ownership to the PDA.

“Whether or not it will be a management agreement or an ownership transfer is yet unclear,” she said.

Both have their benefits and drawbacks. If the city and the PDA were to work out a management agreement, then the city could retain full ownership. If the PDA were to take full ownership, however, the property could become a sustaining source of revenue for the organization.

Beyond legal details, though, the matter of who owns the property could affect the outcome of the project, said Don Meyer, executive director of the Thea Foss Waterway Development Authority. Meyer took the helm of the agency in 1999 and has since led the redevelopment of a mile and a half of property along the Tacoma waterfront.

At the time, the property was held in trust by the local park district and the city of Tacoma, meaning that potential developers would not only have to work with the development agency, but with two local governments as well. And that didn’t even include the necessary shoreline permits.

So in order to streamline the redevelopment process, Meyer insisted that the property be transferred to the development authority.

“City governments by and large are so regulatory in their nature that they are not set up for economic development,” Meyer said. “I fundamentally believe that you have to put some form of asset control in the hands of the development authority in order for the board to have some negotiating power with private developers.”

In general, Hoisington agrees, but the details still have to be worked out.

“The whole idea of the PDA was to create a separate entity to focus on economic development,” Hoisington said. “But right now we’re in the process of figuring out the best way to proceed.”

 

Parberry development

The Parberry family has had a presence in Old Town since the 1920s and they own about five acres in the area. Under the development agreement, the city will offer incentives such as reduced impact fees if the family relocates Northwest Recycling. The agreement doesn’t force Northwest Recycling to move, but will become void after five years. Other highlights of the offer include:

The city will make about $2 million in street improvements that would normally fall on the shoulders of developers.

The Parberrys must dedicate two areas to the city for public plazas. The city would pay for the construction of the plazas.

 

Old Town plan

The new sub-area plan was passed by the Bellingham City Council in March. The area was identified in the city’s 2006 Comprehensive Plan update as a potential urban village area that needed a master plan.

District boundary: Roeder Avenue, Bay Street, Prospect Street, Dupont Street, Bancroft Street, and G Street.

Vision of urban village: Development of 850 to 1,120 housing units and 400,000 square feet of commercial space.

Floor-area-ratio: Encourages short, wide buildings and tall, skinny buildings with a maximum height of seven stories.

See more at www.cob.org and search for Old Town.

 

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