Lynden OKs financial incentives to help rebuild Delft Square

The Bellingham HeraldSeptember 4, 2014 

— The City Council has voted to waive nearly $60,000 in fees and spend $175,00 for street improvements to help redevelop historic Delft Square — the latest such attempt since the building was nearly destroyed in a fire six years ago.

Those were among the steps approved by six members of the City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 2, with Councilman Gerald Kuiken abstaining. He couldn’t be reached for comment about why he decided to abstain.

Mayor Scott Korthuis supported the decision to rebuild the derelict structure at 444 Front St.

“Downtown Lynden needs economic development,” he said Wednesday, Sept. 3. “We’re pleased that someone wants to develop the property.”

The century-old building was home to a number of businesses over the years, including the former Lynden Department Store. It was occupied by several small businesses when a fire swept through in June 2008.

In 2013, Teri and Matt Treat bought ownership shares of the building and joined Jeff and Debra McClure to form ForeFront Ventures to redevelop the property. They plan to turn the burned-out building into a 35-room hotel, called The Inn at Lynden, as well as retail and restaurant space.

The building itself would be renamed the Waples Mercantile Building, in honor of Billy Waples, who was the original owner and founder of Lynden Department Store. The nationally known store served county residents before closing in 1979.

“The decision by the City Council is a key element in the pre-development process and gets us closer to construction,” Teri Treat said.

The partners will release more information about the project in the coming weeks.

City staff has been working with ForeFront Ventures since October 2013 on redevelopment plans.

“We’re excited to see this group of people move forward with this investment,” said Amy Harksell, the city’s planning director.

The City Council’s decision on Tuesday included:

• Waiving fees for fire mitigation, park impact, transportation mitigation and building permits, totaling $59,987, pending environmental review.

• Making improvements on Front and Fifth streets, including repairing and replacing sidewalks, curbs and gutters, as well as landscaping and lighting. Some of the improvements would be those normally required of a developer. The project is expected to cost $175,000 with funding coming from the voter-approved Transportation Benefit District, which included a small increase in the city’s sales tax.

• Creating a so-called special valuation program for historic properties that would allow the applicants, in this case ForeFront, to receive credit against their property taxes for up to 10 years. The properties would have to be listed on a local registry as well as the National Register of Historic Places; the building is listed on the national registry as the Lynden Department Store. Harksell is working on an ordinance to create such a program that still must go before the City Council.

City leaders said that rebuilding the boarded up Delft Square is a priority because the burned shell is on a prominent corner — causing businesses to leave the downtown and discouraging others to move in because it’s been empty for six years.

The building’s prominence affects the surrounding area, according to Gary Vis, executive director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce.

“It can have a big impact on how the whole downtown looks,” Vis said.

He praised the City Council’s decision.

“It’s a positive step in the right direction. I’m glad that they recognized the significance of the property, the importance of getting it remodeled and in a different shape than it is now. It’s probably our landmark building downtown,” Vis said.

A June study from the Center for Economic and Business Research showed the project could generate $23,332 a year in sales tax and $15,668 annually in hotel/motel tax for the city. It could create 42 jobs directly and indirectly, according to the study done by the research center at Western Washington University.

The study looked at tax revenue generated by an inn, including meeting space; a restaurant; a microbrewery; a bike shop; and a deli-market. A work studio also could be created in the space but its tax contributions couldn’t be calculated because it’s unknown what kind of venture could go in the space, according to the study.

This is the latest effort to restore the building:

• Developer Jeff Johnson partnered with Jeff McClure and Pete Dawson of Dawson Construction to buy the building in November 2008 for $210,000.

• In 2011 the Lynden City Council looked into buying the 42,900-square-foot building, but that was not finalized.

• In 2012 Lynden residents voted down a $9.5 million bond to renovate the building to house a new YMCA.

City leaders hope this project will be the one that moves forward.

“Our hope is that with what we’ve done as a city to help and then with the developer doing the bulk of this work, that this will come to fruition,” Korthuis said.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

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