Developer to buy 11-acre Simplot site

Dan Hiestand
   A local real estate investor hopes to revive a large piece of long-vacant property in Ferndale.
   James Willson — along with his wife Rebecca — have plans to buy an 11-acre parcel on Portal Way owned by The J. R. Simplot Company for $1.6 million. Simplot, a food and agribusiness corporation based in Boise, Idaho, had a vegetable-processing plant at the site until 1989, Willson said.
   Official sale of the land is pending.
   “This is a parcel that I think has been overlooked for some time,” said Willson. The property includes several dilapidated buildings, including two cold-storage structures; each is 13,000 square feet in size and was built in the 1950s. Willson said he would likely demolish those two structures in anticipation of improvements.
   “I think (the older structures) have scared people from buying the property in the past,” he said. However, some of the buildings on the site — including a 13,000-square-foot concrete tilt-up building and a handful of steel-skinned storage buildings that feature a total of approximately 26,000 square feet of space — are worth saving, he said.
   “It’s a great piece of property in that it sits directly off the freeway,” Willson said. “I think that lots of people are looking for easy freeway access, both for visibility to their clients and for ease of access to their own personnel.”
   He added that he is considering the purchase of an additional two acres of land adjacent to the 11-acre parcel.
   “I may have anywhere from 11 to 13 acres available,” Willson said.
   He said he has been working with Faber Brothers Construction to develop a site plan for the area, which is zoned manufacturing. Under his vision for the property, the site would likely be utilized for several purposes, he said — including commercial, light industrial and some manufacturing development.
   “We’re open to getting a variety of uses in there under a Planned Unit Development (PUD) with the city of Ferndale, and we’re actively working with them,” he said. “That’s likely what we will end up with — a mixed-use site.”
   Michael Jones, associate planner with the Ferndale Planning Department, said the city has talked with Willson to discuss his development ideas, but that Willson has not yet submitted any applications for development.
   One option Willson is considering is re-parceling the land after removing some of the buildings and making upgrades, such as street improvements as required by the city. Eventually, he plans to either sell the parcels to end-users, or build-to-suit in conjunction with Faber Brothers acting as the general contractor.
   Willson said he has been considering a purchase of the property since he became aware of it this past summer. He said there are several companies who have shown interest in a redevelopment of the property.
   “We actually do have some strong interest in the property with some people, and are fairly far along in negotiations, but I’d rather not reveal who they are at this point,” he said.

New six-story building going in downtown

Hiedi Schiller
   The owners of City Blend Espresso are planning to develop a six-story, mixed-use building on the espresso stand’s property at 1330 N. State St., on the corner of State and Magnolia Streets.
   Jami and Peter Harrison bought the property and the business four years ago, and have always planned to develop it, Jami Harrison said.
   “We just happened to buy right when things started happening down here,” she said.
   The initial plans, presented at a neighborhood meeting on Nov. 6, include ground-floor retail space and parking, a second floor of parking, and four upper floors for 22 residential condo units, as well as a common plaza area on the roof for condo owners.
   The style of the building — concrete on the ground floor and wood construction on the upper floors — will blend in with the rest of downtown, said Susie Johnson, project contact for Douglas Landsem Architects AIA, the building’s architect.
   Douglas Landsem also designed the Morse Square and Fairhaven Gardens buildings, she said.
   “It will look a lot like the buildings in Fairhaven right now,” Jami Harrison said.
   City planner Brian Smart said the biggest concern he heard at the neighborhood meeting was regarding parking issues, but that the project seemed to address the issue well with on-site parking space for both residential and commercial vehicles.
   He said that while the plans were still preliminary and the project will need to go through a city center design review, he said the project’s plans for 1,900 square feet of commercial space was notable.
   “It’s definitely utilizing a piece of property that’s rather unused right now,” he said.
   The Harrisons have not yet applied for any permits with the city. Jami Harrison said she expects to begin construction in summer 2007, and thinks the project will be completed in early 2008.
   According to Whatcom County Court records, a tax judgment was filed on Oct. 18 against City Blend for $4,477.51 in unpaid Department of Revenue taxes. Jami Harrison said she has already paid the taxes and that the judgment won’t have any impact on developing the property.
   “My husband, being a developer, has planned to develop the property since day one,” she said. “Fortunately, there has been a business down there running that, most of the time, pays for itself, but still manages financially to have its ups and downs like any small business.”
   The couple has not taken any bids for construction and expects to do so next year.

Western Air begins hiring staff

Hiedi Schiller
   A spokesperson from Western Airlines Inc. has confirmed the company is currently advertising for flight attendants and customer service representatives, a move that may signal the airline is getting ready to begin flights from Bellingham International Airport soon.
   “We are seeking candidates for the positions of flight attendants and customer service representatives in preparation for our impending inaugural flight service,” said Leigh-Ann Campbell, public relations and advertising director for Western Airlines Inc. “This is a very exciting time for us and we are anxious to share this excitement with the public in the weeks ahead.”
   The company placed an ad in the Nov. 3 issue of The Western Front that read, “Exciting opportunity for flight attendants and customer service representatives.” The ad stated that flight attendant applicants should bring a resume and cover letter to the airlines office on Nov. 7 or 8 and should also have a passport by the time they graduate from training in December 2006.
   Campbell said she could not confirm when the company plans to begin flights or whether the company has purchased any planes or received FAA certification for scheduled passenger service status.
   Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the FAA Northwest Mountain Region, said that Western Airlines has not purchased any planes or received FAA certification for scheduled passenger service status.
   The company has leased office space at the airport since December 2005 but has not yet signed an airport lease to begin flights, said Art Choat, director of aviation for the Port of Bellingham. He said he was unsure when the airline would begin flights.
   Skagit County aviation veterans Jerry Welch and Curt Tronsdal founded Western Airlines in 2005.
   In December 2005, Welch said he thought Western Airlines would join Allegiant Air and Horizon Air in flying out of Bellingham by spring 2006, to cities in Arizona, California and Alaska. At the time, the airline had not secured financing for their planes or received FAA certification. Welch had said the company would like to purchase several MD-80 planes, which can seat more than 150 passengers.

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