Development update: who's building and who's not

The BBJ follows up with developers to find out which projects broke ground and which plans broke down

By Isaac Bonnell

In the development and construction world, you can sometimes judge the state of the industry by looking at the crane index — an unofficial count of how many cranes there are around the city. Last year, at times, there was hardly a single one.

But 2010 is looking better. Hard hats and dump trucks are once again becoming regular sights in Bellingham.
Here at The Bellingham Business Journal, we often write about proposed developments months, sometimes years before they actually break ground. Some of these projects have moved forward and others are nowhere to be seen.

Listed below are some of the more prominent projects we’ve reported on over the past couple of years with a quick update on their status to date.

St. Paul’s Academy

Address: 1509 E. Victor St.

Developer: St. Paul’s Academy

Plans: New middle school and high school

Status: Under construction

Update: After years of planning, construction of the $11.4 million school is under way and is expected to be completed by next summer. The school had been waiting for financing for about two years and managed to raise more than $1 million last year for its capital campaign.

“It has truly been an epic period for St. Paul’s Academy,” said Sarah Brand, development director at St. Paul’s. “With more than $1 million in donations we are excited and enthusiastic about our plans to expand our school.”

Marriott Hotel

Address: 4034 Northwest Ave.

Developer: 360 Hotel Group

Plans: Five-story hotel with 204 rooms and underground parking

Status: In permitting

Update: The first building permit for this project was submitted in mid-March to build two stormwater vaults on the site. The developer did not return calls about when construction of the hotel might begin.

Bellingham City Planner Brian Smart said it is not uncommon for developers to submit a stormwater permit separately from the building permit because it allows them get the project started without a complete review of the building plans. It’s also a strong indicator that the project has all its financing lined up.

“If they have the financing, they will build those stormwater structures first,” Smart said.

Fairhaven Hotel

Address: 1200 Harris Ave.

Developer: Ralph Black, Alliance Properties

Plans: Five-story retail/office building

Status: Waiting for financing

Update: The market for commercial real estate has plummeted in the last year, making it even harder for projects like this to proceed. Developer Ralph Black said banks won’t lend for the project without a tenant lined up, and tenants are wary to sign on to a project that doesn’t yet have financing.

“But should financing become available and should we find a tenant, we’ll be going forward on this project,” he said.

King Mountain urban village

Address: North of King Mountain Neighborhood and east of Guide Meridian

Developer: Ralph Black, Alliance Properties

Plans: Urban village with about 900 residential units (single-family residences, condos, townhouses) and between 60,000 and 100,00 square feet of mixed-use commercial space.

Status: In master planning

Update: After being annexed by the City of Bellingham last year, this project is waiting for the Bellingham City Council to docket the project, meaning it would get the go-ahead for city staff to work out a potential rezone.

Walton Two

Address: 1501 N. State St.

Developer: Bellingham/Whatcom County Housing Authorities

Plans: Three-story mixed-use building with 40 affordable housing units, 2,800 square feet of commercial space and underground parking

Status: Under construction

Update: Executive Director John Harmon estimates the $7.2 million project is approximately 20 percent complete. Much of the initial work has been pouring the foundation and the underground parking garage. Commercial tenants are still being sought for the ground-floor commercial spaces.

The project is expected to be completed in February 2011.

Bellwether Gate

Address: 21 Bellwether Way

Developer: David Ebenal, Ebenal Construction

Plans: Three office buildings, the tallest of which is four stories, and one restaurant

Status: Under construction

Update: Construction of the first and tallest of the Bellwether Gate buildings began last year and is expected to wrap up in July, said development manager Wayne Weed. The engineering firm CH2M HILL is slated to occupy most of the building and Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant announced that it will take up most of the ground floor.

“We’re currently negotiating with five other tenants for the building,” Weed said. “We feel that by the first of June we will be close to 90 percent occupancy.”

Morse Square Apartments

Address: 1010 Railroad Ave.

Developer: Rick Westerop, West-Lind Construction

Plans: Four, six-story mixed-use buildings with apartments

Status: Planning stage

Update: Developer Rick Westerop first submitted plans in late 2008 to scale back this project from an 18-story condo tower to two mixed-use buildings with 140 apartments. The plans have since changed to include four buildings with underground parking — and they could change some more, Westerop said.

“We’re still dragging along, trying to make the buildings a little more cost effective,” he said.

Since banks are lending less these days, Westerop said, he is redrawing the plans to make the project pencil out easier.

Eldridge Manor

Address: 1515 E. St.

Developer: Living Care

Plans: Four-story senior living facility with 91 units and underground parking

Status: Project cancelled

Update: After months of looking for financing, Seattle-based Living Care has withdrawn its plans in Old Town, said CEO Denis Bryant.

“There was not sufficient market to absorb another senior living facility,” Bryant said. “We are disappointed that it didn’t work out.”

Average occupancies at many senior living facilities in the region are down due to the recession, Bryant said, and lenders did not want to finance the construction of more units. Though this particular project didn’t make it, Bryant said the company would still like to build in Bellingham.

“We like the Bellingham market very much. We think it’s a great city,” he said.

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