Our hearts go out to the many individuals and businesses in Whatcom County impacted by the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Employers of all sizes and sectors should carefully monitor the situation and take steps to protect the health of their workers, their clients, and their businesses. Please remember, it is important to document business impacts as the situation is unfolding, both for insurance purposes and for future relief efforts by state and federal agencies. There are a growing number of resources for our business community to stay informed and prepared (some of which are listed below).
- Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood issued a proclamation of local emergency due to COVID-19. Additional orders were signed extending payment deadlines for City utility, B & O tax and lease payments, and waiving corresponding late penalties.
- Port of Bellingham Economic Development Recovery webpage
In September, the City of Bellingham launched a grant program using approximately $500k in additional CARES Act funding to support businesses in the food and beverage industry located in the City Center and Fairhaven Districts. The purpose of the program is to boost economic recovery by supporting these hard-hit businesses, which are critical to maintaining the activity and success of the overall district.
87 applications were received, totally a request of over $1.5 million in funds. Each application was reviewed for eligibility and evaluated by a local review team based on the business’ impact on the local supply chain, contribution to the vitality of the district, and how operations or products have been adapted to address COVID-19 related challenges.
The final list of the 39 grant recipients can be found here.
The City has approved several applications for street closures or partial lane closures through the temporary right-of-way use permit process. These permits have been issued to accommodate temporary outdoor seating and uses for businesses adapting to COVID-19 related safety restrictions. The following street closures have been approved:
Holly Street plaza (downtown): The original permit, which was slated to expire October 31, 2020, has been extended through the end of the year to accommodate holiday-related business activity and programming.
10th Street (Fairhaven): The lane closure is permitted through July 2021, but is only being used intermittently by the Fairhaven Association and adjacent businesses.
Grand Avenue (downtown): The permit for the lane closure, originally authorized until October 31, 2020, has been extended through Phase IV of COVID-related health restrictions
Champion Street (downtown): The permit for the lane reconfiguration (no closures) is authorized through Phase IV of COVID-related health restrictions
Following a comprehensive review of 405 applications from Bellingham businesses for the Whatcom ReStart business grant, 274 top-tier applicants impacted by COVID-19 were identified for $3.4 million in grant funding.
The maximum grant amount was $15,000. Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham contributed CARES funds to boost economic recovery and support these businesses.
The application scoring criteria was based on three assessment categories: Adaptivity/Business Strength (40%), Impact/Need (40%) and Community Contribution (20%).
For more information or questions contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City has an established permit process for use of the sidewalk and right-of-way for commercial purposes. Businesses who need additional space to accommodate reopening under COVID protocols are encouraged to use this tool to expand into the sidewalk and street, provided safety and passage for pedestrians can be maintained/enhanced. For more information, contact email@example.com.
- Guidelines for sidewalk cafes, parklets, food trucks and other commercial uses of the public right-of-way
- Guidelines for Public and Private Covered Cafes
Some businesses have coordinated on proposals for full block closures or modifications. The City supports these temporary uses to support business activity during the COVID-19 related restrictions and safety protocols. Limitations on the maximum number of displaced parking stalls have been lifted during the Mayor’s Executive Order.
The Green Cone Program is a collaboration between the City of Bellingham, Historic Fairhaven District and Downtown Bellingham Partnership. The cones provide a visual cue showing customers which restaurants and retail businesses are operating and open in Fairhaven and Downtown. Check out the flyer for more information.
On March 20, Mayor Fleetwood ordered the following relief measures take effect immediately to help ease financial pressure created by COVID-19 response:
- Offering payment plans, waiving late payment penalties and suspending water shutoffs for approximately 27,000 utility customers, ensuring no customers face having their water and sewer services disrupted due to financial hardship caused by COVID-19.
- Waiving or reducing rent for small businesses and nonprofits leasing City properties, including leased space in the downtown parking structure, at Boulevard Park, the Sportsplex, and other City properties. This applies to tenants whose ability to pay rent is negatively impacted by the reduced economic activity levels associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Allowing businesses that file quarterly to defer first and second quarter business and occupation (B&O) tax returns and payments until October 31, 2020
- Whatcom Unified Command: Whatcom Unified Command’s website has listed out business resources in our community: https://whatcomcovid.com/businesses-restaurants/
- SBDC: The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has stepped up to act as the local hub for resources, including resiliency planning, links to local, regional and national agencies that provide up to date information, and more. We suggest you bookmark the SBDC Corona virus page. They are ready to help your business now. Get started with SBDC’s Resiliency Guide: SMALL BUSINESS RESILIENCY GUIDE
- Washington State Department of Commerce: The Washington State Department of Commerce https://www.commerce.wa.gov/ has resources available and links to the Small Business Association’s (SBA) Disaster Relief program. The SBDC can also help you with the SBA loan process.
- Employment Security Department: The Employment Security Department of Washington State has programs for both individuals and businesses, and a side-by-side comparison chart of possible COVID-19 scenarios and benefits available: EMPLOYMENT SECURITY DEPARTMENT and COVID-19 SCENARIOS CHART
Washington state launched a new online system for fielding essential business inquiries. This portal is the best place for businesses and stakeholders to get clarification and/or submit a request for inclusion under the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy proclamation.