BELLINGHAM - A longtime downtown landmark is now under local ownership.
Bob Hall and David Johnston have purchased the Bellingham National Bank building at the corner of East Holly Street and Cornwall Avenue for $4.3 million.
In a deal that closed Thursday, July 31, Hall and Johnston acquired the building from a group partially owned and managed by Sandy Piha. Sandy Piha is the son of well-known developer Morris Piha, who died in May 2013 at the age of 79.
Morris Piha, who bought the building in 1973 for $750,000, put the building up for sale in July 2010 for an appraised value of $5.35 million, he said in an interview for The Bellingham Herald at the time of the announcement. Piha was a leader in the failed effort by downtown property owners and others to block city approval of Bellis Fair mall in the 1980s.
Opened in 1913, the five-story bank building is known for its ornate, high-ceiling lobby and Italian marble. It's on the National Registrar of Historical Places, and has 66,072 square feet of leasable space.
Hall and Johnston plan to give the building a deep cleaning and to repair its iconic exterior clock. A "Welcome to Bellingham" mural also will get some work done; Johnston said the mural high on the southeast side of building is essentially falling apart, so they will work on a way to make it a more visible, solid sign again. Some of the windows also need to be reglazed and reset.
"It is very rewarding to take over a building that's already doing well and get it to the next level," Johnston said.
The owners are also looking at the possibility of installing solar panels on the roof and other energy-efficiency improvements, with the help of Sustainable Connections and its community energy program.
Johnston said he and Hall had been interesting in acquiring the building for about 15 years, and decided about six months ago they could move forward with the acquisition.
Either jointly or individually, Hall and Johnston own more than 500,000 square feet of downtown property, including the Herald Building, the Bellingham Hardware Building and The Leopold Retirement Residence.
Johnston consider downtown Bellingham the most vibrant part of the county, noting the recent residential construction taking place and the growth of Logos Bible Software, which employs around 400 people downtown.
According to the 2014 Whatcom County Real Estate Research Report, the downtown district has 802 employers employing 7,383 people.