On Monday Sept. 10, Mayor Kelli Linville announced the City of Bellingham is considering a proposal to enter into a public-private partnership to redevelop 1314 Cornwall Ave. (the former JCPenney building) into a mixed-use residential, office and retail development. The Mayor will bring forward a Development Agreement for City Council consideration, and the Bellingham City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Sept. 24.
“A community's downtown is everyone's neighborhood,” Mayor Linville said. “It is the first place visitors and potential investors look to understand the community's economic health and character. This is why I am so deeply committed to the health of our City Center. We are fortunate to have a local business and development community, such as this development team, so invested in the return of downtown as the heart of our City.”
Downtown Bellingham was the center of community life and economic activity beginning in 1891 with the merging of the towns of Whatcom and Sehome to create “New Whatcom”. The 1988 opening of the Bellis Fair Mall resulted in the closure of anchor retail tenants and subsequent blocks of vacancy, draining much of the activity from the downtown core. While downtown has nearly recovered from the loss of its retail center, one major vacancy remains.
The proposed agreement and associated lease are with private partners Jeff McClure and Jeff Kochman and contain binding terms for the redevelopment of the property. The City would purchase the land and the private partners would purchase the building from current owner Whatcom Center LLC, managed by Bruce Tolchin, for $2.85 million. The City would enter a 50-year land lease with the developers McClure and Kochman with an option to purchase. The purchase option and future rent adjustments would ensure that public investment is repaid over time.
The building has been vacant since 1988, and the private market has not shown interest in activating or renovating the building. This agreement would leverage private investment while advancing the City's goals of supporting additional market-rate housing and revitalizing the downtown district.
“I am excited to propose that the City form a public-private partnership with local developers. Together, we will transform this vacant building into a vibrant commercial and residential property,” Mayor Linville said. “More jobs and more housing is exactly what we need to continue the positive momentum that is building in our City Center. This would be one of several key investments that the City of Bellingham has made in our downtown in the past several years to improve the health and vibrancy of downtown.”
If approved, the new project would be called Dock Street Flats and is inspired by the original street name, Dock Street, which was later www.cob.org/downtown.