Lakeway Inn gets $1.5 million remodel

Dan Hiestand
   If nicer accommodations help visitors feel good about a locale, then the city’s largest hotel is doing its part to help people enjoy the area.
   The Lakeway Inn & Conference Center started a $1.5 million renovation in early January that will dramatically upgrade its 132 guest rooms — as well as some common areas and its indoor pool.
   “In the hotel business, it’s critical that you keep up with the constant changes, guest needs, requirements and expectations,” said Steve Brenk, general manager of the Lakeway Inn. According to Brenk, the upgrades will provide his guests with “the most comfortable and technologically advanced guest rooms between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.”
   Each room will receive a 32-inch LCD flat-panel television, valet refrigerator, new furniture, coffee makers, drapery packages, carpet, bedding packages and window treatments. The rooms already have high-speed Internet access.
   The first stages of renovation involve remodeling the pool area, which is due to be completed in mid-January. The room remodeling will start at that time and continue through March. The hotel plans to renovate the ballroom area toward the end of summer, Brenk said. Public-area corridor carpets are also being replaced.
   John Cooper, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, said the upgrades are a welcome addition to the local tourism industry.
   “A hotel in itself is not a draw, but a quality property helps to reflect the quality of the destination,” Cooper said. “People who stay there will say, ‘You know, that’s a great place,’ and they will remember the town, too. I think it’s going to be really good for both the tourist and the convention markets.”
   Former owner Fred Poppe sold the hotel, built in 1977, in 2004 to a group called Today’s VI LLC, a Los Angeles-based, family-owned hotel company. The hotel property was last renovated in the late 1990s, Brenk said.
   Work will be limited to one floor at a time, and renovation work that produces noise will be limited to between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. when the majority of guests are away from the hotel, Brenk said.
   The hotel, which features two restaurants and 11,000 square feet of meeting-room space, hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year, including the recent Bridal Inspirations Wedding Expo, holiday parties, auctions and various community events.
   “We want to continue to be Bellingham’s meeting place, as well,” Brenk said.

Eartha Kitty’s closes; no timetable for site, says Trillium

Dan Heistand
   Trillium Corp. is two steps closer to putting their latest mark on Old Town with the departure of two longtime tenants from a building the Bellingham development company purchased last spring.
   Eartha Kitty’s and Pink Flamingo recently closed their retail spaces at the Pace property on West Holly Street. The exodus means there is just one remaining business at the site — Wise Buys Shop — as well as few residential tenants.
   Joie LaBlond, of Saratoga Commercial Real Estate, said Trillium has no plans to replace the tenants at this time.
   “(Trillium) had a two-year tentative window as far as coming up with a definite plan on what they are going to do with the building for possible redevelopment,” LaBlond said. “And because of that, they are not going to be heavily marketing to replace tenants. Trillium is going to keep the tenants in place, and try to keep them happy until they come up with a plan.”
   Mauri Ingram, Trillium project manager, said the company told Wise Buys Shop that there would be no change in the current situation for a minimum of six months. However, the move does bring any potential redevelopment options the company may have closer to reality, although Ingram said the company doesn’t have any plans at this time.
   Trillium closed on the 10,500-square-foot property in March of last year.
   Frances Erickson, who ran Eartha Kitty’s for 20 years at the Pace building, said she was sad to leave, but Pink Flamingo owner Carol Jenkins — who had a shop at the location for nearly three decades — and Erickson are excited about the new start. The two business owners are now running their businesses out of booths nearby at the Old Town Antique Mall.
   “We feel bad because we know our customers were bummed to see us go,” she said. “But, don’t worry. Carol is (booth) 23 and I’m (booth) 12. We are really happy there.”

Trillium goes back for Galbraith rezone

Heidi Schiller
   Areas surrounding Galbraith and Lookout Mountains could become a 2,400-acre mixed-use development in the next few years if Trillium Corp.’s plans come to fruition.
   Trillium submitted an application to the Whatcom County planning department on Jan. 2 seeking to remove the forest resource lands designation and create a UGA study area for 2,400 acres of land in the company’s Galbraith/Lookout Mountain property, project manager Mauri Ingram said.
   The company is also requesting the land be rezoned to accommodate one unit per 10 acres on the land as an interim zoning designation. This zoning would be considered a “placeholder,” Ingram said. The company hopes to develop the site at a much higher density in about three years, she said.
   The company wants to develop a mixed-use community in the area, which is located southeast of Lake Padden and north of the North Lake Samish I-5 interchange in unincorporated Whatcom County. The land is near, but not inside of, the Lake Whatcom watershed.
   The company has no specific details on how many units the development will contain, she said, but anticipates it will be sizeable.
   “It’s a very large site. To make it viable, there has to be pretty significant development there,” she said.
   Trillium submitted an almost identical application to the county in January 2006, but the county chose not to consider because it had too many changes on its docket at the time, and the application was considered too large to include, Whatcom County planning and development director Hal Hart said.
   If all goes as planned for Trillium, the company hopes to change the property’s designation from forest resource land to a UGA study area — meaning county and city officials would consider it for future Bellingham expansion — this year, Ingram said. Then, in 2008, an active planning process for the site, with community involvement, would occur, and in 2009 the company would pursue a planned development contract, Ingram said. Trillium hopes to break ground there in about three years, she said.
   “This is a very aggressive timetable,” Ingram said.
   Ingram stressed the importance of such a fast timetable, saying Whatcom County is in a pivotal stage in terms of population growth, and that this type of development would be an “informed and deliberate” process toward satisfying the goals of the Growth Management Act.
   After ground breaking, the buildout would likely take at least 20 years, she said. Ingram said the site’s development would represent a logical “rounding out” of the Bellingham city limits as well as providing a development area that is close to two I-5 entrances and exits.
   “We also see this as an opportunity to plan well in an area with natural resources and beauty, and to be respectful of that land in collaboration with the community,” she said.
   Trillium’s president, David Syre, has assembled the land over the last 25 years, during which it has been used for commercial logging. Ingram said it makes sense to change the forest resource land designation because its potential lumber yield is not highly productive, and its steep terrain makes logging in the area less profitable.
   The area has also been widely used by mountain bikers and hikers.
   Mark Peterson, president of the Whatcom Independent Mountain Peddlers (WHIMPS) Mountain Bike Coalition, said he has mixed feelings about Trillium’s plans for the area.
   Peterson, who is also the national advocacy director for Ferndale-based Kona Bicycle Company, said he has biked in the Lookout and Galbraith Mountain area since 1988, and has met with Trillium’s Syre half a dozen times in the past year to discuss plans for how development there could continue to allow mountain bike trails.
   “My understanding is that the development would take trail locations into consideration,” he said. “It would be an added value to their community.”
   Ingram said that Trillium plans to allocate one-third to 40 percent of the property for parks, trails and open space.
   Hart said if the council decides to put Trillium’s application on the docket for this year, it could be a huge undertaking for planning staff.
   “This would be a huge policy choice for the county and the city,” he said.
   Hart said that he couldn’t predict whether the council would decide to consider the application.
   The county planning department will formulate a staff report of the application for the County Council between now and March. The council will review the report and then hold public hearings on the issue before voting to put it on the docket, Hart said.

New life for Lynden Cost Cutter?

Dan Hiestand
   The former site of the Lynden Cost Cutter is quiet now, but that may be changing in the near future.
   Jim Anderson, senior vice president with Brown & Cole, Inc. — one of the partner entities in Lynden Market Square, the general partnership that owns the commercial site — said the property’s owners are actively looking at potential future uses of the building and surrounding property.
   The location— which includes a little more than five acres and approximately 45,000 square feet of building space — is open to new tenants after Brown & Cole Stores, also owners of Lynden’s Food Pavilion and Everson’s Red Apple, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November. The store was closed last month.
   “We’ve met with (Bellingham architect) David Christensen in order to look at what else can be done on the property because of its size. There is a lot of ground there,” Anderson said. “At present, we’re in the process of developing a plan for the use of the property. I would expect that it will be (mid-February) before we really have an idea of what we are going to try to do.”
   Christensen said he is exploring if the property zoning will allow some residential development on the site, an option he is looking into with the city of Lynden. The building will likely house multiple tenants, he said. Christensen believes renovations should create more mixed uses that will translate to increased opportunities for smaller businesses.
   “We may keep some or all of the building. Some we may demolish,” he said. “We are going to totally change the look of it.”
   Christensen said the property would be ideal for some residential development.
   “It’s a shame to have just parking and commercial (development) next to this beautiful (Fishtrap Creek) location,” Christensen said. He said Lynden Market Square is also considering low-impact development strategies, such as the addition of more green space at the site.
   Brown & Cole, Inc. is a separate group from Brown & Cole Stores, which operated the Cost Cutter. After the grocery business closed, Brown & Cole Stores terminated the lease at the site, and the property went back to the Lynden Market Square owners, Anderson said.
   The building, built in 1991, has a lot of potential, said Anderson.
   “We know there are options. We want to look at an overall plan for the entire property, and at that point in time we will start to develop some budgets. It’s just too early to even speculate what those would be,” he said. “I think the building is in good shape. It’s well suited to put a variety of tenants in there if we need to. It’s really a matter of what kind of requirements people have in terms of how much space they want.”
   He said the group has had inquiries from interested parties.
   “We’re going to re-use the building in some form. My expectation is that probably the building would be divided (into multiple parcels),” Anderson said. “We fully expect that we will be developing a use for the property and are going forward.”



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