Ownership of three buildings — with a combined 20,000 square feet of commercial space at Fairhaven’s 12th Street Village — will likely be changing hands.
Uy Family Limited Partnership LLC, headed by Bellingham developer Patrick Uy, is in the process of buying the buildings from 12th Street Village LLC. As of press time, the sale of two three-story commercial buildings and a two-story commercial building at the site was pending, with the deal slated to close Oct. 15.
The 12th Street Village property, a mixed-used development at the intersection of 12th Street and Old Fairhaven Parkway, also features four condominium buildings as well as the three commercial buildings and parking. The condominium buildings were not included in the deal, and financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.
The commercial buildings were built in 2005 by the 12th Street Village LLC, a property-development company headed by partners/developers Michael Bradburn, who owns Crystal Creek Trading Company in Bellingham, and Dick Nord, founder of Nord Northwest Corporation, a development company in Conway.
Nord has been involved with several projects around Bellingham, including the Woodland Hills condominiums on 28th Street in Fairhaven.
Since the commercial buildings were built, 12th Street Village has been at about 50 percent occupancy most of the time, said Nord.
“There have been some businesses that have come in and moved out,” he said.
Most recently, it lost tenants Spoiled Rotten, a children’s clothing store and All American Deli and Ice Cream, which opened in November 2005. Despite the vacancy issues, April McAllister, property manager for Sycamore Square in Fairhaven (property also owned by the Uy family) said she is optimistic.
“I just think this building is going to be very vibrant and exciting and full,” said McAllister. “It’s a very visible corner … We’re getting ready to rent a few more spaces.”
Several companies have shown interest in leasing possibilities, she said. Asset Advisors LLC, a Bellingham-based financial planning company, will likely be moving into 2,000 square feet of space by Jan. 1, said company owner Dick Donahue. His company is close to signing a 10-year lease there.
“It’s a beautiful building,” McAllister said. “We believe we can fill it. Just in two days, I’ve talked to 10 different people. I expect the traffic on the leasing possibilities to really pick up.”
McAllister said the Uy family talked to a number of potential tenants before entering into the agreement.
“Sycamore Square … has been full for four years. There is a waiting list, so we also have that pool to pull off of. As long as we are out there and we are aggressive and we are talking to people, I really believe that before spring that building will be full,” she said.
Nord said the commercial buildings were not listed, and Uy approached him about the sale.
“We had talked recently about condominium-izing (the site’s commercial buildings), which we had a lot of interest in,” Nord said. “But we just didn’t want to do that. We might have done (that) if this buyer had not come forward.”
He said his company’s attempt to make the 12th Street Village work was not a disappointment or a failure.
“It’s been a successful project because it’s an absolutely gorgeous building. From our standpoint, it’s been a challenge because our costs — we were caught in kind of an inflationary spiral during a period of time, and that happens all the time. It’s part of business,” he said. “From the time you conceive a building until the time that it is completed, you’re almost gambling on the future.”
Local MLS closes doors
Bellingham-Whatcom County Multiple Listing Service (BWCMLS), which has been in business since 1953, effectively closed its doors Sept. 29 due to dwindling membership numbers.
The organization has been in a battle for members with Northwest Multiple Listing Service since the Kirkland-based organization opened an office in Bellingham in October 2004, said Frank Muljat, a former president of BWCMLS.
The closure comes on the heels of a lawsuit BWCMLS brought against Northwest MLS last year, which charged the larger listing service with, among other things, violation of antitrust laws and attempting to drive the smaller Bellingham listing service out of business. However, Whatcom County Superior Court dismissed the claim.
“About half the (BWCMLS) membership, representing probably five offices, dropped their membership and joined Northwest MLS (when Northwest MLS arrived in Bellingham),” Muljat said.
Many members kept dual memberships in both Northwest MLS and BWCMLS for a while, but most eventually switched to Northwest MLS, he said.
“Some of the large, franchise offices (that switched to Northwest MLS) felt that there were some advantages, rightfully or wrongfully, in just having one multiple listing service to deal with, rather than two,” said Tom Follis, former BWCMLS vice president. For Follis, the closure has special significance, as his grandfather helped found the organization, which was owned by 69 broker members. However, he said, life goes on.
“There is no sentimentality involved,” he said. “I hated to see it go just because I got used it. All my agents got used to it. A lot of the other offices got used to the way it operated.”
In the end, the costs to operate the organization were just too great, he said.
According to its Web site, BWCMLS had about 500 members and compiled 1,000 active listings for properties for sale at any one time and 8,000 listings annually. At its height, it boasted between 800 to 900 members, Follis said.
Follis said it cost about $16,000 per month to operate the organization, which proved to be too costly.
“We were constantly going into the red every month, and rather than bleed it down to nothing, we decided to close our doors and salvage what we could,” Follis said.
For those involved locally with real estate issues, BWCMLS had an advantage over Northwest MLS because it was locally controlled, he said.
“The advantage that we had locally was that we had a lot of in-county accountability and responsibility,” he said. “If there were problems between agents, or problems between the public and agents, we could go through the grievance process here locally. Now, we have to deal with a set of rules and regulations that require people who may not be totally familiar with the way Whatcom County does business to decide issues.”
Jack Johnson, president and CEO of Northwest MLS, disagreed, saying Northwest MLS members in Whatcom County are able to handle many issues locally.
“Discipline and ethical problems can be handled and are frequently handled through the local Realtor association, which is a local organization,” Johnson said, adding that the closing of the BWCMLS wouldn’t have an effect on Northwest MLS operations.
“There may be some offices and agents up there who were exclusively (BWCMLS) members, and we would certainly do anything and everything we possibly could to assist them and bring them into Northwest MLS if that’s what they choose to do,” Johnson said.
Follis said any differences in service — from the public’s standpoint — would not be significant, aside from making the transition from a smaller, local scope to a more regional one.
“I don’t think that Whatcom County citizens will notice any significant change between the two as far as getting information out and getting it published,” Follis said. “So there is nothing from that standpoint, except that they will be dealing now with a lot of offices and a lot of agents beyond the Whatcom County marketplace as compared to agents or offices that they were more familiar with (at BWCMLS). Again, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way the market has changed now.”
As a multiple listing service provider in many areas of Western Washington, Follis admits Northwest MLS is able to provide more exposure than BWCMLS.
Muljat, who has been BWCMLS board president three times during his 40-year membership, said he is disappointed to see the organization close.
“It’s always sad to see something that has been around for years go away,” he said.
WWU hoping to bring high-tech consortium to the waterfront
Bellingham could become a new high-tech hub if Western Washington University’s plans for a technology consortium on the waterfront come to fruition.
At the port and city’s waterfront redevelopment meeting on Sept. 26, a representative for WWU announced that the university’s concept for a technology consortium is a primary candidate to locate in New Whatcom, along with Huxley College.
Called the Consortium for Technology and Innovation Development, or CTID, the center would be a place where university engineers and scientists, including professors, researchers and students, would work with local industry to develop high-tech devices or processes to benefit local businesses, said Doug Graham, a representative for Stratus, a consulting firm working with WWU on their waterfront plans.
University departments involved in the consortium would include engineering technology, industrial design, chemistry, materials chemistry, physics and geology, said Arlen Norman, dean of Western’s College of Sciences and Technology.
“The major source of things that would get worked on would come from small startup companies attracted to our area, or in our area,” Norman said.
The local companies would not necessarily be high-tech ones, either. He said one example involved with CTID could be a berry farm that needed a better way to sort berries, or a construction company that needed a better way to glue plywood, he said.
“It’s not about the university, necessarily, but (it’s about) what does the community need and what resources do we have to help what’s needed in the community,” Norman said.
Norman received a $22,000 grant this past summer to research the idea. Over the summer he looked at 60 similar technology centers across the country, gleaning elements of what could work in areas similar to Bellingham demographically: medium-sized cities with medium-sized, largely undergraduate universities and fairly strong agricultural industries, he said.
Norman said that he is not sure yet of what the consortium’s size or cost will be, but that similar programs he’s looked at range from 40,000 to 50,000 square feet.
Other elements that seem to make technology consortiums successful are proximity to the university and support from both the private and public sectors, usually with state and sometimes federal support.
Norman is working with members of the Technology Alliance Group, or TAG — a group with 90 members of high-tech Whatcom and Skagit County businesses — to develop plans for the consortium.
Robin Halliday, vice president of network services for DIS (Dealer Information Systems Corp.) and a TAG board member, said that CTID could boost Bellingham’s already-thriving technology industry.
“The concept for an innovation center is that small businesses often have good product ideas, but often lack resources — capital to buy machinery, employees or expertise — to build a business plan to get interest from funding sources,” she said. “The various departments that Western has could provide a lot of expertise at the professional and staff, as well as student, level. By connecting businesses with those resources, you can help solve those issues.”
Halliday said she thinks the consortium would create jobs, attract new firms and bolster both high-tech and other types of businesses in the area.
“Almost any industry benefits from the addition of technology and people educated in technology,” she said.
Another TAG board member, Anna Ehnmark, co-owner of Open Access Network Services, said the consortium could help WWU graduates stay in the community rather than relocating elsewhere by creating more resources and more higher-paying jobs for them, she said.
“Now that we’re looking at the waterfront, we should not only be looking at livable spaces but also at livable wages,” she said.
Ehnmark said that many technology graduates are forced to start their own companies because of a lack in high-tech job offerings, and the consortium could be a resource to help those startup companies here in Bellingham.
The Washington Technology Center, or WTC, located on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, is a state-chartered, technology-based economic development organization. It has an objective similar to what CTID’s would be: Local economic growth through technology, said WTC Executive Director Lee Cheatham.
WTC has consulted with Norman and TAG about the CTID idea, he said, and its board members toured the New Whatcom site in early October.
“(CTID) would serve as a focal point for local entrepreneurs, businesses and researchers to get together and network, and it would also be a focal point for investments in small businesses,” he said.
The next step will be for WWU to visit similar technology centers around the country, and then conduct financial feasibility tests, as well as further examining how it would work at the New Whatcom site, Graham said.