Whatcom council set to buy State Street building for permit center


BELLINGHAM - Whatcom County is preparing to open a "one-stop" permit center with the proposed purchase of a State Street building owned by the county's medical examiner.

The council appears ready to approve the purchase of the building at 1500 N. State St. from Gary Goldfogel, who has his medical examiner's office and his private business, Avocet Environmental Testing, in the building.

County officials are billing the sale as a sweetheart deal. The county and Goldfogel have agreed to a price of $2.6 million. The building and adjacent parking lot were appraised at $3.557 million.

The parking that comes with the building - 120 spaces total at the building itself and in a lot across the street - is worth more than $1 million, council member Pete Kremen said during a presentation on the proposal Nov. 26.

"It really is a very good value for the county, and I think on top of all of that, the location is also a very good location for our operations," Kremen said.

Council members were receptive to Executive Jack Louws' proposal to purchase the 22,157-square-foot building to house permit offices for the Health, Planning and Public Works departments. The medical examiner's office and the morgue would remain in the building.

Barbara Brenner was the only council member to criticize the plan. She said the planning department's permit center at the Northwest Annex, at Smith Road and Northwest Drive, is more convenient for county residents.

Council will vote on the purchase at its Tuesday, Dec. 10, meeting.

If it is approved, county administrators will juggle renovation projects in preparation for moving employees. The county will renovate its Girard Street building and the Civic Center on Commercial Street to accommodate Health Department employees currently working in the building the county would purchase on State Street. The county leases about 80 percent of that building at a cost of $272,000 a year, Louws said - another motivation for purchasing it outright.

"We can do better by owning the building ourselves," Louws said.

After Girard and the Civic Center are completed, the State Street building will be renovated at a cost of up to $2.3 million. That's a high-end estimate, Louws said, and he expects to complete the renovation for less.

The county is covering these costs with existing funds and not raising taxes.

The building that loses this game of musical chairs is the Northwest Annex. The 110-year-old former hospital is not well suited to offices and would cost $2.5 million to "get it up into reasonable shape," Louws said. Plans for the annex were not immediately known.

Move-in at State Street should happen in 11/2 to 21/2 years, Louws said.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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