Waterfront site gets new life

Rendering of the proposed Gaston Bay project, courtesy Gaston Bay LLC

Heidi Schiller
   Developers are planning a $1.5-million renovation of the former Sonny Foods building at 2925 Roeder Ave., with a possible fish market earmarked for the site’s ground floor and office spaces above.
   Architect David Christensen, project manager and member of Gaston Bay Development LLC, which owns the building, said the developers hope to begin construction in the fall and complete the project by March 2007.
   The site is zoned light-industrial and is flanked by Mount Baker Plywood and Bellingham Cold Storage.
   “It represents an opportunity to do an energy-efficient project using recycled material — adaptive reuse,” Christensen said. “As an architect, I look at existing buildings and see the possibility for a finished product where others cannot.”
   The site will be renovated into a three-story, 25,000-square-foot building with two floors of commercial office space and a ground floor dedicated to a marine-related use, such as the fish market, he said. The Franklin Corp. will build the project.
   Christensen said the building is designed for gold-level LEED-certification and will feature a rooftop deck.
   “This office space will have a SoHo loft kind of feel,” Christensen said. “For people that want a more interesting space, this has character and history.”
   This is not the first time Christensen has been on the development side of a project. He developed two mixed-use properties in Seattle but this will be his first in Bellingham.
   The project is called Gaston Bay, after Spanish explorers’ original name for Bellingham Bay, Christensen said.
   Gaston Bay Development LLC purchased the building, which sits on land owned by the Port of Bellingham, from Sonny Foods LLC in April.
   The building, constructed in the 1930s, was first used as a furniture-manufacturing facility and a potato warehouse before becoming a frozen-food processing facility. Christensen said the building has a heavy timber frame with high ceilings, which he will design to be opened up with windows on all sides.
   In July, the port approved a rent for the property that is equivalent to the rental agreement that had been in place with Sonny Foods. The port decided to keep the rent low in consideration of the amount of money the developers will invest in the project, said Lydia Bennett, director of real estate for the port. That rate will last for 18 months, or until construction is complete, she said. Then the rent will be adjusted to fit market rates, she said.
   The developers will apply to the port for design permits at the end of August and will apply to the county for building permits in September, Christensen said.

New strip mall coming to the Guide

Dan Hiestand
   The Guide Meridian, always an eclectic mix of commercial activity, will add even more flavor to the scene next year with a new development situated in the shadow of a retail giant.
   Construction on a 10,000-square-foot strip mall — at 101 E. Stuart Road, in front of Wal-Mart at the intersection of the Guide Meridian and Stuart Road — started last month, said property co-owner Dean Smiley. Smiley, an insurance broker in Skagit County, said the $2.2 million facility was essentially custom-built to accommodate the Washington state liquor store currently housed at 181 Telegraph Road.
   “We designed the building specifically for them,” Smiley said. According to Smiley, the liquor store will use 6,300 square feet of the building, while the remaining footage has not been leased or listed, as of yet.
   “Obviously, there is going to be a lot of traffic coming in and out of there. (The liquor store) should be a good neighbor,” he said.
   The building, which will be made primarily of brick and stucco, is essentially a carbon copy of a facility Smiley helped open last year in Mount Vernon, he said. That building is also the home of a state liquor store.
   Smiley said he doesn’t have any other property investments in Whatcom County. However, he is on the board of directors for the Business Bank of Whatcom County, which recently opened its doors in the Fountain District.
   “We’re very excited to be in Bellingham,” he said.

Lakeway Center to get facelift

Dan Hiestand
   Owners/brothers John and Dave Ennen have decided to give Lakeway Center a facelift.
   The shopping center, which was built in 1974 and has not been renovated since the late 1980s, is in need of a makeover, said John Ennen, a partner with his brother in Ennen’s Brothers Partnership. The company also owns Lynden Towne Plaza.
   “We feel we need to bring it up to date,” he said. “We haven’t finalized on the plans. We’ve got some preliminary sketches,” he said. Bellingham architect David Christensen is handling the redesign of the building, which is literally just now going to the drawing board.
   “We’re looking forward to — hopefully in the next week or two — getting a little more detail so we can go to a contractor and get a preliminary estimate of the cost for the project,” John Ennen said. He said he hopes to start the project this fall or next spring.
   He said he could not estimate the cost of the project at this time.
   “It really needs to be upgraded,” Christensen said. “(The property) used to be more in the suburbs, (but the location is) now more of an urban center.”
   A newer, “up-to-date” design and an improved parking situation are two of the major goals of the project, John Ennen said.
   “The current styles out there are like a town or city street, where the (shops) look a little different — so it isn’t the old strip-center look,” he said.
   A new parking area, with improved walking areas for pedestrians would make people feel safer, Christensen said. In addition, the redesign would likely include aesthetic improvements as well, such as more landscaping.
   “In the preliminary design right now, the storefronts themselves will probably be what they are,” Christensen said. “There will be a lot more brick. The clock tower is going to be redesigned, the whole building will have more traditional materials — it will be a combination of brick, cornice and some traditional design elements, to make it feel like a more permanent, classic, timeless design.”
   Christensen said the redesign may even include adding some residential units, but that addition would depend on many factors — including meeting parking requirements.
   John Ennen said an admiration for contemporary building styles helped his company make the decision to spruce up the location.
   “The new stuff that’s being done looks really nice,” he said. “We just believe we need to keep our property up.”

A taste of Africa

   Mulanesh “Mulu” Belay moved to Bellingham from central Ethiopia with her husband, Takele, when he accepted a position as a physics professor at Western Washington University in 2002.
   The couple moved into a housing community called Bellingham Cohousing, where Belay prepared traditional Ethiopian feasts for her neighbors. They loved her meals so much that they encouraged her to open a restaurant, she said.
   Belay worked as a prep cook at La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza and the restaurant’s owners, Ken and Dan Bothman, helped her become a vendor at the Farmers Market.
   Belay has been serving a menu of traditional Ethiopian bread (made with teff, the staple grain of Ethiopia) and a rotating array of chicken, beef and lentil dishes during the 2006 Farmers Market season. The food is slow-cooked for more than three hours and includes spices such as red pepper, garlic and coriander.
   Belay said she wants to eventually open a full-service Ethiopian restaurant in the future.

— H.S.

Casa Que Pasa shut down by state

Dan Hiestand
   The Washington state Department of Revenue shut down Casa Que Pasa July 3 for unpaid taxes totaling $44,452.40. According to letters posted on the restaurant’s windows, the tax warrant was issued May 2, and the restaurant’s business license has been revoked.
   The restaurant, at 1415 Railroad Ave., will be closed until it pays all of its back taxes, said Department of Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow. If the business can pay the tax amount, it would have to get a bond equal to six months of estimated tax liability to apply for another business license.
   Abel Jordan, the restaurant’s owner, was unavailable for comment.
   “Our whole goal is to keep businesses in business,” Gowrylow said. “It’s better in the long run for, obviously the business, but also the business’ employees and ultimately for the state because we’re more likely to collect any overdue taxes if we can keep the business in business. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”
   Jordan was most recently in the news for his defiant stand on the state’s indoor smoking ban. The Whatcom County Health Department sent a letter to Jordan late last year ordering him to stop smoking within his restaurant and tequila bar or face $100 fines.
   The day after the closing, several disappointed customers were surprised to find the establishment dark and empty.
   “This was actually the first place I ever went to in Bellingham,” said Fred Hartsook, 21. “I’ve been coming here regularly ever since.”
   “It’s sad to see a business go, for whatever reason,” said Tom Esia, 36, owner of Left Coast Furnishings on Cornwall. Esia said he has not been to the restaurant, but can appreciate what it meant to people. “You like to see local businesses thrive. With downtown kind of coming around, you hate to see this — especially with a place that seemed pretty popular.”



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