The Bellingham City Council approved the Downtown Bellingham Plan and related development regulations in 2014. Together, these planning tools guide private development and public improvements, and help prioritize city investment in the development of Downtown.
- Downtown District Development Regulations
- Design Review
Downtown Safety and Security
In late 2021, the City, with participation and feedback from the downtown business community, assessed needs and developed additional strategies (pdf) to support a safe, clean, and welcoming downtown.
The Downtown Bellingham Partnership and the City will launch a new Downtown Safety Ambassador Program beginning Spring 2022. The Ambassador Program will provide additional outreach, business assistance, and hospitality services in coordination with other Downtown service providers. This two-year pilot program is funded by federal ARPA recovery dollars, intended to support districts and industries most impacted by the pandemic.
The City has contracted with local private security company, Risk Solutions Unlimited (RSU), to provide safety patrols within the Downtown core. The patrols are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and are anticipated to continue until the Safety Ambassador Program is in place.
The RSU security staff are clearly identified, unarmed, and vaccinated. They are trained in de-escalation and customer service and will provide additional “eyes on the street” to deter crime, assist those in need, and support other downtown service providers, such as the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) and downtown Clean Team. RSU has a hands-off policy and is focused on building relationships with all Downtown stakeholders.
Security may be contacted directly for any non-emergency concerns with a 24/7 dispatch line: #800-824-2383
As usual, immediate life/safety issues should always be directed to 911.
For city-wide business resources, visit the Economic Development webpage.
The Downtown Retail Strategy was developed to strengthen the retail mix downtown in an effort to improve the overall attraction of living-wage jobs, residential investment, street activity and fiscal health of the district. The strategy considers the specific trade area of downtown and the demo- and psycho- graphics of the target market to determine the types of stores likely to be most successful in a focused retail area. The City and Downtown Bellingham Partnership (DBP) have partnered on this effort, including a Retail Advocate (within the DBP office) who is working to recruit businesses and pursue the other recommendations outlined in the report.
Bellingham Opportunity Zones: Portions of Bellingham’s downtown and waterfront, the Samish Way urban village, and the nearby Lummi Nation have all been designated Opportunity Zones. Investments in these areas qualify for substantial tax incentives under this new federal program.
Multi-family Tax Exemption Program: Get an 8-12 year property tax exemption on the residential value of new multi-family construction.
B & O Tax Reduction: New businesses and branches that locate in Downtown, Old Town, Waterfront, Samish Way or Fountain are eligible for a graduated tax credit of 90% for the first year, 75% for the second year, and 50% for the third year of operation. Contact the Business License Services / Tax line at 360-778-8012 for more information.
Transportation Impact Fee (TIF) Reduction: Take advantage of automatically-reduced Transportation Impact Fees (TIF) in these areas. The less transportation impact your project has, the better. Check out this program’s FAQ’s for details.
The Downtown Main Street Program: This program allows any business to write-off a portion of their State B&O taxes in support of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership (DBP). Contact the DBP at 360-527-8710 for more information.
The Parking Services webpage provides information about short-term and permit parking in downtown Bellingham.
For additional questions about parking operations, contact Parking Services in the Finance Department, email@example.com, 360-778-7780. Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Mon – Fri. For parking enforcement questions contact the Bellingham Police Department, parking enforcement section, 360-778-8800.
The Downtown Bellingham Partnership is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering the vibrancy and growth of our downtown. Everything they do is rooted in the idea that our community — Downtown Bellingham — is a place unlike anywhere else. They work to enhance, promote, and advocate for a vibrant city center through development, promotion, support, and celebration. Their mission is to champion the health and vitality of downtown Bellingham through the promotion of commerce, culture, and celebration. They have a vision to make Downtown Bellingham a thriving, healthy community where people from all walks of life can experience a wealth of opportunities to work, shop, learn, and play.
The DBP operations are supported through an economic development services agreement with the City.
Arts and Culture
Explore the arts and culture of Bellingham through the City Center public art collection, iconic facilities, and links to additional art and tourism resources.
The annual Mayor’s City Center Awards provides an opportunity for the Mayor to honor, showcase and recognize some of the outstanding achievements and exceptional private projects that have led to the revitalization of Bellingham’s City Center Neighborhood.
The Mayor selects property owners, businesses, and/or organizations as awardees based on criteria that includes: outstanding restoration, rehabilitation, or renovation of an existing building; creating unique residential and commercial spaces within existing buildings; activating adjacent public spaces; and other actions that improve the quality of life in Bellingham’s City Center.
In 2017 the City hired a consultant, Hargrove International, to lead a planning process with the goal of helping to grow cultural heritage tourism as an economic driver in Bellingham and Whatcom County. Partnering with Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism and over 26 major stakeholders, the City has created a five-year Cultural Heritage Tourism Strategic Plan that will be implemented over time by Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, the City and a growing group of stakeholders.
Cultural Heritage Tourism (CHT) Strategic Plan (3,130k PDF)
Resources for Historic Buildings in Bellingham
Bellingham is home to a myriad of historic buildings dating back to the 19th century. These buildings give our community a unique and authentic character and help preserve our community’s past. To encourage historic preservation and make use of already-existing buildings, Bellingham offers incentives for the preservation of historic buildings including: special tax valuations, permitting, building code flexibility and more.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official listing of historically significant sites and properties throughout the United States, and is maintained by the National Park Service. The National Register includes districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that have been identified and documented as being significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and/or culture.
Listing in the National Register of Historic Places is honorary, and offers no preservation protection. The National Register Overview (PDF) contains additional information. Staff Contact: Michael Houser, State Architectural Historian: firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-586-3076
In 2012, the City of Bellingham received a $10,000 grant from the State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) to complete a survey and inventory of historic resources in the CBD Neighborhood (now known as the City Center Neighborhood). The project involved completing inventory forms (reconnaissance level) and taking photographs of approximately 450 properties in the CBD Neighborhood, as well as portions of the Sehome and Sunnyland neighborhoods.
The City of Bellingham contracts with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership (DBP) to help keep downtown attractive by maintaining planting beds and planters, cleaning street furniture, and picking up litter on a daily basis throughout the week.
- Downtown Raingardens: The City’s Public Works Department addresses stormwater that enters Whatcom Creek through the Downtown Improvement Gardens (DIG). Anyone can sign up to become a steward of one of the many raingardens in downtown. To learn more about how the City is managing stormwater runoff and reducing water pollution into Whatcom Creek and Bellingham Bay, take the Downtown Bellingham Discovery Tour.
- Report Issues as You See Them: The City of Bellingham has introduced a new way for residents to report non-emergency issues through SeeClickFix, which is both a mobile app and web browser application. The application allows users to upload photos as they report specific problems, ranging from potholes, damaged street signs and illegal dumping to minor flooding and sidewalk obstruction.
Did you know it’s the responsibility of a property and/or business owner to keep sidewalks in front of or adjacent to their property litter-free? See Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC 10.60.070) for more information.
Other relevant Municipal Codes for property and business owners:
- BMC 10.60.050 — Placement in receptacles – Receptacle standards.
- BMC 10.60.060 — Sweeping into gutters prohibited.
- BMC 10.60.130 — Property owners’ duty to keep premises litter-free.
Sidewalk Deep Clean: Interested in giving your sidewalk a deep cleaning? The City of Bellingham’s Public Works Department has pressure washing kits available for local businesses and residents to use. To borrow, contact the Stormwater Hotline at 360-778-7979, or Aaron Burkhart at email@example.com, (360) 778-7961.
Graffiti: Graffiti is a growing issue in Bellingham. City departments are working with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership and to encourage property and business owners to collectively address the issue downtown. For more information about property owners’ responsibility to remove graffiti, see BMC 10.28.020 (L), which declares graffiti visible from any public place a nuisance, and BMC 10.28.030, which outlines the quick response required by the property owner.
The North State Street Design Concept describes a cohesive vision for North State Street, between York Street and the roundabout at Wharf Street, to guide future capital improvements projects that collectively will improve connectivity and safety, commercial vibrancy, social activity and identity of place through the length of the nine-block corridor