Launch Slideshow

Bellingham, Wash.

Growth is welcome in this part of the Northwest, but there's little agreement about the form it will take.

Bellingham, Wash.

Growth is welcome in this part of the Northwest, but there's little agreement about the form it will take.

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    As Bellingham prepares to redevelop 220 acres of waterfront property, a debate rages over whether to grow denser (and taller) or to spread the city outward.

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    Zervas Group Architects

    ANVIL CORP. BUILDING Architect: Zervas Group Architects, Bellingham Developer: Anvil Corp., Bellingham Planned Completion: 2008 Cost: $13 million Because the engineering firm's new headquarters by the airport will be home to more than 200 new high-paying jobs, the city allowed sewer and water extensions for the 50,000- square-foot project, despite a long-running moratorium.

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    RMC Architects

    CORNERSTONE Architect: RMC Architects, Bellingham Developer: The Barkley Co., Bellingham Planned Completion: 2008 Cost: $16 million This 149,000-square-foot commercial-residential building will have a roof garden and mark the transition between a retail/mixed-use district and Barkley Village, a masterplanned, new urbanist residential area.

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    Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects

    BELLINGHAM ART AND CHILDREN'S MUSEUM Architect: Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, Seattle Developer: City of Bellingham Planned Completion: 2008 Cost: $11 million Containing two new museums and situated in the heart of downtown Bellingham, the 41,720-square-foot building is expected to receive a LEED Silver rating.

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    Stewart+King Architects

    DEPOT MARKET SQUARE Architect: Stewart+King Architects, Bellingham Developer: City of Bellingham (plus private funding) Completed: 2006 Cost: $2.5 million This 5,200-square-foot downtown market uses reclaimed steel from a historic Skagit River bridge in nearby Mount Vernon, Wash. The open-air market won a 2006 Citation Award from the AIA's Northwest Washington chapter.

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    Doug Scott

    WHATCOM EDUCATIONAL CREDIT UNION LOAN CENTER Architect: Zervas Group Architects, Bellingham Developer: Whatcom Educational Credit Union, Bellingham Completed: 2007 Cost: $3.2 million LEED Gold certification for the 9,000-square-foot building is pending and would make the center Whatcom County's first building to achieve the standard.

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    David Scherrer/WWU Archives

    WADE KING STUDENT RECREATION CENTER Architects: Opsis Architecture, Portland, Ore. (design architect); BJSS Duarte Bryant, Seattle (architect of record) Developer: Western Washington University, Bellingham Completed: 2003 Cost: $18.3 million The 98,000-square-foot building is the first university rec center with a pool to receive LEED certification. In 2004, it earned a national merit award from Athletic Business magazine and won the Outstanding Sports Facilities Award from the National Intramural Recreation Sports Association.

A century and a half ago, Bellingham, Wash., was a small mill town on the Pacific Coast. Then came the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, luring thousands of fortune-seekers to the area from California. After the rush, shipping became the economic mainstay. These days, retail, trade, healthcare, manufacturing, and education keep the city humming.

"We have clean air and water, good schools, proximity to large cities without having to live there, [and] great recreational opportunities," explains Lylene Johnson of the Muljat Group South, a local real estate broker. The nearly 90-mile commute to Seattle keeps Bellingham from serving as a bedroom community, a plus for those looking for less expensive housing on or near the water.

Several residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects have been completed since 2000, and many more are on the boards. The biggest project now is the redevelopment of 220 acres of prime waterfront property on Bellingham Bay, adjacent to the central business district. Now in the planning phase, the first part of the development, a marina, could be online as early as 2008.

But not everyone is excited about Bellingham's growth, and managing public opinion is a challenge. "There is a lot of resistance to increasing density within existing neighborhoods," says Michael Smith, principal of Zervas Group Architects. "That leads to increased pressure to expand the urban growth area, which is also met with a lot of resistance."

POPULATION GROWTH

Bellingham's population grew by 2.4 percent to an estimated 75,220 in 2007, the highest rate in the past six years. Employment outside the farm sector grew by 1,600 jobs for the 12 months ending in July 2007. Most of that was in the service sector, which includes retail, transportation, and professional employment.

Occupancy in the city's office buildings is high, at about 97 percent. Average asking rates range from around $11 per square foot to the mid-$20s in newer space.

Median home sale prices have risen $40,000 since 2003, to $377,894 for the first half of 2007. The median condominium price at midyear 2007 was $199,995.

MARKET STRENGTHS

  • Educated workforce (Western Washington University)
  • Proximity to large domestic markets including Seattle and Redmond, Wash. and Vancouver, Canada
  • Gateway to natural areas

MARKET CONCERNS

  • Sprawl
  • Resistance to increased housing density
  • Rising home costs

FORECAST

"The largest challenge is how to grow the economy beyond the service sector to better provide family-wage jobs in a rapidly increasing housing market," notes Brad Cornwell, principal for RMC Architects. "Also critical will be how to manage the incoming growth in a manner acceptable to established residents and in a location with restricted geographic constraints."