Downtown building owners propose business district

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership and area property owners are seeking to form their own business district, called a Parking and Business Improvement Area (PBIA), to fund beautification projects and improve security in the downtown core.

The PBIA would raise money for projects by collecting a two-tenths of one percent assessment on property values from downtown building owners. This would give the group an estimated $300,000, based on current tax assessments, to perform services such as regular litter pick-up and sidewalk sweeping, landscape maintenance, public decorations and security patrols.

“The PBIA is taking a fund, if you will, and putting it directly to the benefit of downtown properties,” said Jim Bjerke, who owns Pacific Continental Realty. “This PBIA takes a downtown that is wonderful and full of character and makes it that much better.”

By his own estimate, Bjerke would contribute around $10,000 to the fund.

In order to form a Parking and Business Improvement Area, the group needs approval from enough building owners to represent 60 percent of the taxable property value in downtown, said Vanessa Blackburn, who is spearheading the effort for Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

“A lot of the major property owners who would be carrying the bulk of this are in support,” said Blackburn, who is also the former editor of The Bellingham Business Journal. “So they’re basically asking the smaller property owners to pitch in and help out for the benefit of the whole district.”

Not all property owners are on board with the idea. Rick Westerop, who owns West-Lind Construction, said he is opposed to any new fees. As a downtown developer, Westerop said, he already pays thousands of dollars in fees just to build a new building. Plus, he works sidewalk improvements and beautification projects into his new developments, so he wouldn’t really get much direct benefit from the PBIA, he said.

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership has been considering a proposal like this for several years, Blackburn said, and support for the idea grew after organization members talked with Marty Dickinson, who heads the Parking and Business Improvement Area in Spokane.

“The board was so impressed with the success of Spokane’s PBIA that they started looking in earnest to see if that was something they could do here,” Blackburn said.

The partnership doesn’t yet have the required number of approvals from property owners, Blackburn said. But once it does, the group will go to

the city of Bellingham and drop off the stack of petitions requesting that the city create the PBIA. The ordinance would get a public hearing and would need final approval from the City Council.

Despite the name Parking and Business Improvement Area, the initial proposal doesn’t contain any parking-related projects. Parking downtown has been a touchy  issue for decades, but many property owners can’t agree on a solution — so it was left out of the PBIA proposal.

“This is something that many people have indicated to us is a very important issue. However, at this point in the project, we’re focusing on secur ity and beautification projects,” Blackburn said.

Parking aside, the PBIA could simply be a way to organize and promote the interests of downtown businesses. As other areas of Bellingham like the Bellis Fair Mall and Barkley Village vie for tenants, the downtown core has struggled to find its footing.

“The PBIA gives the downtown somewhat of a unified voice,” said Bjerke from Pacific Continental Realty. “We have all these hundreds of property owners downtown with no unification of voice. This gives us that.”

Find out more

A discussion about the proposed Parking and Business Improvement Area will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8, in the City Council Chambers at 210 Lottie St. Marty Dickinson, the executive director of the Spokane Parking and Business Improvement Area, will be speaking.

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