Editor Tim Johnson launching new ‘Cascadia Weekly’
After a tumultuous winter, in which infighting, financial troubles and power struggles led to the collapse of the Bellingham Weekly, Tim Johnson, the paper’s former editor, will be back on newsstands in mid-March.
Johnson, along with former Bellingham Herald reporter Emily Weiner and several former Weekly staffers, will launch Cascadia Weekly , a publication covering local arts, entertainment and news, on March 15.
“I believe there’s a need and market for a publication of this kind, and the advertising community felt that way, too,” said Johnson.
While Johnson, a 44-year-old Seattle native who co-founded the Every Other Weekly in 1997 and morphed it into the Bellingham Weekly six years ago, is excited about the new paper, the fiasco that led to the shutdown of the Weekly is still fresh on his mind, he said.
Since 2003, when Johnson and Doug Tolchin formed Atomic Telegraph, the LLC that owned the Weekly, the two were increasingly at odds over the paper’s management, content and future.
The feud peaked in December when, after Johnson’s attempts to buy Tolchin out from the LLC fell through, Tolchin, the majority owner, fired Johnson, laid off other staffers and shut down the paper.
The battle then spilled into Whatcom County Superior Court, where the two battled over, among other things, control of the paper and a laptop computer with personal files on it.
These legal matters, said Johnson, are currently in arbitration.
According to a letter written by Tolchin in the Jan. 6 edition of the Weekly, his plans were for the paper to go into a “hibernation phase” until spring and then reemerge debt free, and with a new managing editor.
Johnson, a 1986 Western Washington University graduate who’s worked in journalism most of his adult life, said the draw of returning to the local newspaper business was strong.
“I’ve been running newspapers for nine years and have it pretty dialed in at this point, as to what the public really wants,” he said.
Johnson said he was able to start the new publication after several investors came forward.
Helping finance the lion’s share of expenses, said Johnson, are longtime friend Bob Hall, a downtown developer, and David Syre, president of the Trillium Corp., who had previously expressed interest in buying out Tolchin.
Other investors, he said, will likely be made public once his legal matters with Tolchin are settled.
Hall, who’s previously been a co-investor in a Honolulu alternative newspaper, described Johnson as balanced and “a real asset to the community.”
“In the last 30 years, I think he’s had the strongest voice I’ve heard in any editorial page,” he said.
Johnson said both Hall and Syre are committed to making the paper a success.
“They believe the community needs a local voice and they believe the media is best served when there’s a multitude of them,” he said.
With the recent, announcement of Delta Airlines adding Bellingham to its service route, Port of Bellingham officials said the airport has reached its capacity of carriers, and the airport’s terminal will need modifications and possible expansion when accepting new carriers. This includes Western Airlines, which announced plans in December 2005 to operate out of Bellingham but currently has no room in the terminal area to operate from.
Western Airlines chairman and founder Curt Tronsdal said upgrades to the terminal are good news for the airline, and that Western Airlines won’t be operating until some time in 2007, as the company is now getting its industry certifications, acquiring airplanes and hiring staff. He said Western Airlines continues to work closely with the port, and that changes to the airport terminal will not affect the airline’s plans. He added that the annoucement by Delta is good news for all local air carriers, increasing the airport’s usage and visibility.
According to Dennis Partlow, airport operations supervisor for the Port of Bellingham, modifications to the terminal and potential terminal expansion will likely happen when Western Airlines starts operation. He said additional parking will also probably need to be added. Partlow noted that these plans will be contingent on Western Airlines’ business plan, which hasn’t yet been submitted to the port.
Art Choat, aviation director for the Port of Bellingham, said new infrastructure will not be needed to make room for Delta, except for possibly the addition of more parking.
The port recently completed a $2 million remodel to the interior and exterior of its terminal, and while it welcomes new carriers, it will need to begin analyzing, and potentially acting on, an airport master plan completed two years ago, which would further expand the terminal, said Partlow.
Currently, Horizon Air flies seven flights a day from Bellingham to Sea-Tac International Airport and Allegiant Air flies four times a week direct to Las Vegas. The port lost service from United Airlines in 2001.
Even with the addition of Delta and, potentially, Western Airlines, Choat estimated there will still be demand for about 250,000 one-way flights per year from Bellingham that will not be met.
“We’re probably one of the most underserved communities of our size in the state of Washington,” said Choat.
Although no new airlines have expressed interest in adding routes in Bellingham, Choat said he expects more to arrive in the future.
Trillium eyeing downtown with newfound interest
Add Trillium Corp. to the list of entities that will be influential in the redevelopment of downtown and Old Town in coming years.
After selling numerous downtown properties in the 1990s, Trillium Corp. has reestablished a presence in the area in recent months, with the purchase of the Boss Tweed restaurant site, at the corner of West Holly and West Champion streets, and attorney Dennis Hindman’s two-story building at 201 Grand Ave.
The two purchases, which together totaled nearly $3.5 million, are likely just the first of more to come, said Mauri Ingram, a project manager at Trillium.
“With the growth in this area, and the county overall, now is an essential time to be redeveloping downtown and ensuring it remains healthy in both specialty retailers and a strong office market, while also exploring the opportunity for housing,” she said. “We feel that if we’re not involved in that planning, as citizens and corporate citizens, we’ll have certainly lost an opportunity.”
With the redevelopment of the waterfront and cultural and civic districts looming, and the core downtown area on the rebound, Trillium, Ingram said, has an interest in acquiring more properties in those areas.
Currently, said Ingram, there’s no limit to how much the company is willing to invest in downtown and is very open to purchasing more properties in the future.
Within the next six months, she said, it’s likely the company will announce another downtown property deal, although she declined to say where.
Prior to its recent acquisitions, Trillium had been a major downtown player, owning, among other properties, buildings that now house the Bellingham Athletic Club, Logos Bible Software and the Whatcom Community Foundation.
With the arrival of Bellis Fair mall, and subsequent departure of many key downtown businesses, Ingram said, Trillium decided to shift its focus away from the downtown core.
Now, though, one of the biggest factors behind Trillium’s rekindled interest, Ingram said, is a desire to be involved in community planning and helping maintain key characteristics of the area.
For example, she said, Trillium was interested in the Boss Tweed property because of its proximity to Maritime Heritage Park, Whatcom Museum and bluff overlooking Bellingham Bay, and its location as a gateway to Old Town.
Development of the site, Ingram said, would present an opportunity to highlight architectural features of the museum and enhance the view of Bellingham’s skyline from both the land and water.
With the Hindman property, she said, Trillium could develop a project that could enhance the features of the art and children’s museum that’s being planned nearby, as well as other future cultural and civic projects in the area.
Presently, Ingram said, Trillium has not established plans or set a timeline for redevelopment of either property, although activity would likely happen first at the Boss Tweed site, as it’s in more of a standalone location.
In recent months, John Sands, owner of Boss Tweed, has indicated he’ll likely close his restaurant within the next two years.
Meanwhile, none of the tenants in Hindman’s building, which include his law offices, a martial arts studio, two bail-bond businesses, and three apartment units, have announced any immediate plans to relocate.
Prior to beginning any projects downtown, Ingram said, it’s Trillium’s intention to work with the city and other developers and landowners, to ensure that projects will work well with one another.
“It’s the perfect time to be in a position to make some key investments and hopefully establish some partnerships with the community, residents, city and other property owners,” she said. “If that’s the type of legacy we can leave, I’m very excited about it.”