With thousands of new residents expected in the Birch Bay/Semiahmoo area in coming years, and thousands of housing units in the works, one thing is noticeably absent: retailers.
“This is a very, very intriguing time for retail entrepreneurs,” said Mike Kent, a Birch Bay resident and Windermere Real Estate agent, specializing in the Birch Bay and Semiahmoo communities. “(Birch Bay) has a population of roughly 6,000 people, with very minimal service. We have a pizza place, candy place, ice cream shop, bank and small grocery. Beyond that, there’s a huge opportunity for an entrepreneur to come in and do retail for a ready-made population.”
Several developers are ready to answer the call, with most in the local business community believing Mount Vernon’s Ware family will be the first to do so.
Since taking over the struggling Peace Arch Factory Outlet at 3400 Birch Bay-Lynden Road in March, the family has announced some significant changes.
The center, now called Birch Bay Square, is currently undergoing a transformation from an outlet mall to a “commercial village,” said Brian Finnegan, leasing agent for the 130,000-square-foot center.
“Instead of outlet retail, you’ll have general retail, some outlet elements, some restaurants —which are badly needed in that area — and a grocery store,” he said.
Recently, Philip and Sandra Scott, of California, announced plans to open a 25,000-square-foot grocery store, Scott’s MarketFresh, at the center this spring.
Finnegan said the grocery store is the first phase of the center’s remodel, being designed by Bellingham architect Dave Christensen, which will be phased in over the next two years.
Currently, he said, there are more than 15 other businesses interested in locating to Birch Bay Square.
While Finnegan declined to give specific names, he said they include:
• Restaurants, ranging from national fast-food chains to a “sit-down restaurant that will provide an element of nightlife.”
• Regional retailers.
Finnegan’s wife, Jody Finnegan, announced this week that she’ll be opening a second location for her 12th Street Shoes at the center.
In addition to Birch Bay Square, the Ware family also owns 20 acres of property directly north of the center.
Finnegan said the center’s location sells itself.
“You go directly east and Birch Bay-Lynden Road is the major access point to Birch Bay and Semiahmoo. You go directly east and Birch Bay-Lynden Road is the main connector from Lynden to I-5. You’ve got Blaine to the north and Ferndale to the south, so it’s as centrally located an area as you can find,” he said.
Other developers have plans for commercial centers, too, but aren’t quite as far along as the Wares.
Homestead NW, which recently purchased about 14 acres at the Birch Bay Waterslides location at 4874 Birch Bay-Lynden Rd. is planning a fitness center, pool, hotel and retail shops at the site, said Lisa Guthrie, the company’s manager of operations.
More details will likely be released in a few months. Putting an end to rumors, Guthrie said Homestead will not be tearing the waterslides down.
“I’d like to believe what we’re doing at the waterslide property will create a town center that everything can branch out of,” she said.
Meanwhile, along the waterfront on Birch Bay Drive, the Sandcastle project, owned by Whistler-based Whiski Jack Resorts, will feature timeshares, along with the Dry Dock restaurant, a day spa by Ellen Shea, and a Sun and Surf Cafe.
Finally, just northeast of developer Fred Bovenkamp’s Horizons Village at Semiahmoo, at the corner of Shintaffer Road and Lincoln Road, Bovenkamp is seeking approval from the county for a 100,000-square-foot commercial building, including 20,000 square feet for a grocer and 80,000 square feet of commercial space.
“We’re trying to create an urban village there,” Bovenkamp said.