Downtown Bellingham has experienced amazing growth in recent years, becoming a popular place for residents, businesses and visitors thanks to the efforts of many. Now a new group, the Downtown Community Safety Alliance, is bringing together entities with diverse interests in an effort to create a safer, inviting environment for all.
Downtown Bellingham's growth is due to the contributions of many entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations and local government. A few of those influences include:
The Bellingham Farmers Market, which started its 21st season April 6, has long epitomized how vibrant and attractive downtown can be with its mix of vendors and entertainers.
The Pickford Film Center, founded in 1998, made a huge leap forward in 2010, restoring a historic building to create the region's leading venue for independent films that draws nearly 50,000 individuals annually. When combined with the Mount Baker Theatre, Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building, the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention and Bellingham Public Library, it's evident that downtown is Bellingham's cultural center.
Local companies such as Logos Bible Software and The Woods Coffee have restored buildings for their businesses, which draw hundreds of employees and customers each day. Also, downtown Bellingham is attracting high-tech businesses. The BIG Idea Lab, Technology Alliance Group, Red Rokk Interactive and Action Sprout all announced plans earlier this year to move into the Crown Plaza building.
The City of Bellingham has been supportive in multiple ways. The Planning and Community Services Department began in 2011 leading the community through myDowntown, a public process reflecting everyone's stake in the health of downtown. The new downtown plan being developed will identify and remove barriers to redevelopment. Also, the work of the police and fire departments is much appreciated.
A myDowntown survey in 2011 received 1,632 responses. Many of those responding were pleased with downtown Bellingham. But the survey also highlighted what many already knew: There is a perception that downtown isn't particularly safe or clean.
"In fact, behavioral issues and cleanliness/landscaping/sidewalk design ranked as the two highest-priority areas identified as needing the greatest attention and community discussion," according to the city's summary of the survey results. "Open-ended comments supported this data, especially concerning the need for public restrooms and cleaning of the sidewalks and alleys. Additionally, loitering on the corners and sidewalks downtown and exhibiting inappropriate and/or illegal behavior was mentioned over 76 times as a primary reason survey respondents either avoid downtown or feel unsafe while visiting."
Behavioral issues include panhandling, trespassing, sleeping in doorways, urinating, yelling and public intoxication. Criminal activity includes assaults, thefts, vandalism and graffiti. None of this makes residents, clients, homeless individuals, shoppers, visitors and business people feel safe or comfortable downtown.
The Downtown Community Safety Alliance has its roots in meetings that followed the survey. Participants include business owners, property managers, nonprofit organizations, the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, Whatcom Transit Authority, Western Washington University and representatives of the Bellingham City Council, Bellingham Police Department and the city's Department of Planning and Community Development. They represent constituents with diverse needs and goals, but are engaging in productive dialogue to make downtown Bellingham a better place for all.
Downtown Community Safety Alliance participants have discussed a variety of possible steps. A pamphlet is being developed that would give downtown businesses and residents resources and ideas for responding to different situations. The Rainbow Center's Good Neighbor program is educating clients and conducting clean-up efforts at downtown sites. Environmental design has been considered as a crime-prevention tool.
Downtown Bellingham is a great place to work, shop, live, dine and be entertained. The goal of the Downtown Community Safety Alliance is to address concerns discussed in this article, as well as others that may arise.
Anyone with an interest in improving downtown Bellingham is invited to attend the next Downtown Community Safety Alliance meeting from 1-3 p.m. Friday, April 12. It will be held in the Crystal Ballroom of The Leopold Retirement Residence, 1224 Cornwall Ave. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP by sending an email to BellinghamDCSA@gmail.com to ensure that enough space and resources are available.
We also encourage attendance at the monthly Downtown Bellingham Neighborhood Association meetings, held from 6-7:30 p.m. the last Wednesday of the month, also at The Leopold's Crystal Ballroom. Your participation in both will help improve our downtown.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kane Hall, a lifelong Bellingham resident, is founder of the Downtown Community Safety Alliance and actively involved in the City Center Master Plan Update. He also is a property manager at Daylight Properties, which manages commercial and residential properties in downtown Bellingham.