Airport to expand into Nat'l Guard site

Heidi Schiller
   The Port of Bellingham is set to expand its general aviation land by eight acres, by acquiring the site where the Washington Air National Guard used to operate an armory adjacent to the Bellingham International Airport.
   The land will be used to build hangar and tie-down space for private and corporate aircraft, said Art Choat, director of aviation for the port. Currently, there isn’t enough space to accommodate the demand of individuals and businesses wanting to fly out of the airport in their own aircraft, Choat said.
   “We have absolutely no land currently for development of hangar space,” he said.
   As of press time, the port was expected to approve a deal on Dec. 5 that makes three parcels of land — used by the Air National Guard until 2003 — available for port development. The land is located adjacent to the Bellingham International Airport on the corner of East Bakerview Road and Williamson Way.
   Funding for the planning process of the area would be included in the port’s 2007 budget, and development of the site wouldn’t be completed for several years, Choat said.
   Currently, 208 aircraft are located in the airport’s general aviation area, 30 of which are corporate jets and the rest are privately owned, he said. The waiting list for hangar space is about 25 to 30 individuals long.
   John Ring, owner of Whatcom Territory Aero Service Inc. — a general aviation maintenance company — said his business would benefit from the increased space.
   Ring said his company could potentially build a larger facility there than its current one, located in the airport’s general aviation section.
   If the port approves the deal, it would require a lease cancellation and a purchase and sale agreement for three parcels of land.
   Two of the parcels — totaling four and a wife acres — are owned by the port and have been leased to the United States Air Force, which operated the Air National Guard there. The agreement would cancel that lease and transfer use of the land back to the port, Choat said.
   The other .78-acre parcel of land is owned by Washington state and has been leased to the U.S. Air Force. If approved, the port will purchase the land for $270,000. The Federal Aviation Administration will fund 95 percent of that figure through entitlement money to the airport.
   Acquiring these three parcels of land — almost six acres — will unlock another two-acre parcel of land the port owns but has been unable to use because of its location embedded in the Air National Guard property, Choat said.
   Additionally, opening up these parcels of land could potentially unlock another seven and a half acre parcel of land nearby in the future, which has similarly been landlocked by the Air National Guard site until now, he said.

Former WAMU lenders start new home-loan business

Dan Hiestand
   Eight loan officers, two loan processors and one bank branch manager have decided to take the leap from the Washington Mutual Bellingham Home Loan Center in Sehome Village to start a branch office of American Home Mortgage in the Barkley District.
   Glenn Wielick, the former branch manager at Washington Mutual, said a group of loan consultants were part of an exodus from the loan center in mid-November. Wielick — who was a Washington Mutual employee for 20 years— said the group included many “seasoned” employees.
   “I don’t think any loan officers (who left) were there less than seven years,” Wielick said. He said a majority of Washington Mutual’s loan consultants made the move to the new company, and several stayed behind.
   Washington Mutual representatives declined to comment.
   Wielick said the move would likely be felt in the local real estate community.
   “Washington Mutual has actually been the No. 1 home-loan lender, based on volume, for the last 10 years running (in Whatcom County according to statistics),” Wielick said.
   Mike Parcher, a Realtor with Prudential Kelstrup Realtors, said a new mortgage company should be a positive thing for consumers.
   “Washington Mutual has always been one of the driving forces around here locally, and it was because of the people,” said Parcher, who has worked on-and-off with Washington Mutual during his 13-year tenure in the local real estate industry. “I would imagine that if a large enough contingency of those people are going out on their own, they will probably do well — and hopefully it will be consumer friendly because of the (added) competition.”
   The group opened operations at its new office at 2200 Rimland Drive, Ste. 250, on Dec. 4, and will move to a more permanent facility at 2211 Rimland Drive, Ste. 124, in January, Wielick said. He said the company hopes to move into a new building, also in the Barkley District, sometime “in the next year.”
   “We made the move because we wanted to be able to provide a greater product and mix of services than what we’ve been able to provide,” he said. The move was not altogether unexpected, Wielick said.
   “In our industry it’s not uncommon to have lenders always courting you. I don’t know if I want to say it was in the works for a while,” he said. “It was obviously something we looked at carefully because we wanted to make sure that we jumped to a situation that was going to significantly improve our customer service.”
   According to Wielick, loan officers who made the move are Jack DeCook, Gary Tice, Claudia Abbott, Kevin Kurtz, Graham Youtsey, Dave Schwab, Sue Schwab and Heidi Goodman. The loan processors are Amanda Wold and Pam Visser.

Construction delayed on tower project

Heidi Schiller
   Developers of the 23-story Bay View Tower have postponed breaking the ground on the condo project at 1217 N. State St. until spring of 2007.
   Construction of the project was originally set to begin in November, investor Will Honea said, but tight financing and construction markets this year, among other factors, have made a spring start date more desirable to the developers.
   “The financial markets are clearly tighter right now, not because of anything going on in Washington state,” he said. Overbuilding in cities across the United States has made potential financers apprehensive about the housing market, he said.
   The developers have turned down several offers from banks to finance the project because the offers were unattractive, he said.
   Honea is confident, however, that the developers will soon find optimal financing.
   “It’s not necessarily a can or can’t do issue,” he said. “You can always get financing, it’s just a question of how good of financing you can get.”
   Because general contractors have been so busy this year, Honea said they also haven’t received a satisfactory bid to construct the project yet.
   He also said there are many good reasons to wait until spring to start building, with the improved weather conditions being at the top of the list.
   The important thing to remember, Honea said, is that a project of this scope usually takes 30 to 36 months from inception to ground breaking. Bay View Tower is ahead of the game, he said, since it’s only been 12 months since the project’s inception.
   So far, about 85 percent of the building’s condos have been reserved, and Honea said many of the buyers understand that a project of this size takes time, and it is important for the developers to have everything in place before going ahead with it.
   Postponement of the Bay View Tower project comes on the heels of changes to several local, large-scale projects.
   Fairhaven Harbor, a mixed-use project on the corner of Harris Avenue and 8th Street in Fairhaven, was scaled down from 240,000 square feet to 145,000 square feet in changes submitted by developers to the city in November.
   There were a number of reasons the developers decided to scale down the project, developer Ted Mischaikov said.
   “Financing always plays a role, but it did not play a significant role in Fairhaven Harbor’s changes,” Mischaikov said. “It was a decision to respond to the marketplace in conjunction with input we got from the planning department and the neighborhood.”
   Plans for a 12-story, mixed-use building on the corner of Chestnut Street and Cornwall Avenue, called Chestnut Park Condominiums, were scaled down earlier this year in large part due to financing problems, developer and Flax Properties LLC partner David Hovde said.
   The project’s plans were reduced by six stories. By doing so, Hovde said, the developers received more interest in the scaled-down version from financing institutions.
   “That’s why we reinvented the wheel,” he said. “We found out financing wasn’t feasible at (the original) size.”
   Hovde said the developers would probably resubmit plans for the scaled-down building in the beginning of December.
   One of the reasons Hovde said financing seems to be difficult is because local banks’ lending limits are less than the cost associated with construction of large, concrete towers. Out-of-town banks, on the other hand, are unfamiliar with the market in Bellingham and are therefore uncomfortable with lending such large amounts, he said.
   “It’s somewhat of an undetermined market, and that’s why they are showing reservation,” he said. “I think there is a market, but it’s just not established yet. After one is built and has success, there will be more.”
   Terry Daughters, senior vice president of commercial banking for Peoples Bank, said he agreed with both of those statements.
   “I would agree with those two comments, that the total costs do exceed local banks’ comfort levels,” Daughters said.
   He also agreed that large regional banks may be uncomfortable financing such projects in a market of Bellingham’s small size, where it is uncommon to see high-rise condo towers.
   Another reason banks are uncomfortable with financing such large condo projects, he said, is because instead of signing purchase and sale agreements, condo projects can only take reservations from tenants, which can be canceled, and that makes banks uneasy.
   “They are highly speculative for a good portion of the time they are being constructed,” Daughters said.



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