Logos CEO proposes major new downtown building

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 28, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - Logos Bible Software continues to grow and its CEO is proposing an ambitious project he believes will make the downtown core more economically vibrant.

Bob Pritchett has talked to city staff about building an 18-story, mixed-use building on the corner of Commercial and West Magnolia streets, near Mount Baker Theatre. Next to the building would be a parking garage that the city would construct in what Pritchett is proposing as a private-public partnership.

Logos owns the property in that area, including the lot for the potential parking garage, which is near Pickford Cinema and the Flatiron Building the company currently occupies.

Pritchett stressed that the proposal is in the preliminary phase. He wanted to make it public now to get feedback from the community.

Logos is looking at several options on how to expand in the downtown core because the company has run out of room for staff. Pritchett said his proposal fits with the city's desire for more density downtown and thus less sprawl. It also would mean more people living, shopping and working in the area, creating more energy for the downtown district.

The plan for the 18-story building envisions condominiums on the top floor, retail space on the ground floor and offices in-between. Pritchett said it would need one other large office tenant, but said Logos would occupy about 60 percent of the building. It would be taller than the nearby Bellingham Towers, which is 15 stories.

A variety of options would be available for the parking garage. It's possible to build a garage with ramps, like the nearby Parkade, or have a design in which cars would enter from Commercial Street into a mixed-use structure, with retail on the bottom, parking in the middle and more offices on top.

This is the type of proposal the city is open to because it addresses many downtown issues, said Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville. With the economy continuing to recover, the city is getting more such proposals. City staff will review the proposals and bring recommendations to the City Council for consideration.

"The concern about having enough downtown parking is an ongoing one," Linville said. "We've been waiting to do something like this."

For years the city has been trying to put in more parking in a way that revitalizes downtown. Linville prefers a public-private partnership because the city doesn't want to build a parking garage and then wait to see if it spurs private development. A combination proposal that would bring in residential, office and retail components at the same time would be best, she said.

STRONG COMPANY GROWTH

Logos Bible Software is a key player in the recent revitalization of downtown. The company arrived in Bellingham a little more than 10 years ago from Oak Harbor with about 30 employees, occupying space on Commercial Street.

Today, the company employs 315 full-time employees, with 290 in three downtown buildings. The company also has 49 summer interns, several of whom might be offered full-time positions.

The company is currently hiring; it has about 30 open positions listed on its website. Open positions include software development, marketing, copywriting and sales.

Last fall, the company released Logos 5, a computer software product that has thousands of reference books relating to the Bible. Sales of the product is doing well, Pritchett said.

At this point, the company has run out of space. It currently rents out one of the screening rooms at Pickford Cinema once a week just to have a staff meeting, he said. The company is also leasing space in a nearby building for some of its bigger projects.

Parking around the Logos buildings has also become challenging for employees. Pritchett said they currently rent several spaces nearby. They recently tested a plan to have parking on Cornwall Avenue on the waterfront and a shuttle to drop off workers. It worked, but he doesn't think it's a good long-term solution.

With waterfront redevelopment getting much of the attention recently, Pritchett was asked whether he considered expanding onto the waterfront. He said he prefers downtown because he considers it the heart of the community.

He also needs to expand now, and said he can do that in the downtown core sooner than on the waterfront, which is a longer-term project.

Linville agreed about the pace of redevelopment happening sooner in the downtown core. Redeveloping downtown is important, she said, because she doesn't want it abandoned as waterfront redevelopment starts gaining traction.

Downtown already experienced an exodus of retailers 25 years ago after Bellis Fair opened.

"The first three phases of waterfront development could take 25 years," Linville said. "With downtown, there are a lot of things that can get started tomorrow."

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Business blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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