BELLINGHAM - Although the company has yet to make a formal announcement, it appears that Costco is taking firm steps toward construction of a new store on West Bakerview Road that could open as soon as fall 2015.
Costco's interest in the site just northwest of the Bakerview Fred Meyer store has been public knowledge for at least a year, because company representatives have been in discussions with city officials about stormwater, wetlands, street upgrades and other matters related to development of the 18-acre parcel. But plans still seemed to be tentative.
Evidence that Costco is moving ahead with the new store emerged Tuesday, Oct. 8, when the Whatcom County Council approved $2.5 million in grants and loans to the city from the Economic Development Investment money that the county gets via an earmarked portion of state sales tax revenue. The money will be used to help the city develop stormwater facilities to make it easier and faster for Costco and other developments in the area to meet regulations when they build.
In its application to the county to get that money, city officials describe the new Costco store as if it were a certainty.
"Assistance from our local EDI fund ... will allow this project to move forward in 2014 and be completed by November 2014, which is just in advance of the early 2015 opening of a new 160,000-square-foot Costco store with a 24-pump gasoline station," the city application states.
Costco's existing Meridian Street store is 133,000 square feet.
The city also provided the county with a copy of a letter from David Rogers, Costco's director of real estate development, to Bellingham Public Works Director Ted Carlson. The letter mentions the new Bellingham store in similar terms, although it suggests a slightly later opening date.
Rogers' letter says his company "hereby commits" to pay for and build some new streets adjacent to the property "in anticipation of an autumn 2015 opening for the new store."
"We are pleased to enter into this public-private partnership with the City and look forward to working with you and your staff to develop the streets needed to serve this area of Bellingham," Rogers' letter states.
Those streets include a new north-south route dubbed Arctic Avenue, and an east-west route called Mahogany Avenue, some of which would be built by the city.
Rogers did not respond to phone calls seeking additional comment. In the past, company officials said they would make no public announcements until they had filed a building permit application.
That hasn't happened yet, but Costco has filed other preliminary paperwork with the city.
Mayor Kelli Linville has been active in efforts to make it easier for Costco to settle on a new site for a bigger store inside the Bellingham city limits. At one point, Costco was being courted by the city of Ferndale and Lummi Nation representatives. Linville said a Costco move out of the city would be a serious hit to Bellingham's tax base.
Linville also has argued that the city's investment in stormwater and wetlands facilities will be needed for other development in the area, with or without Costco. In any event, the city expects to recover most of the cost of the facilities from Costco and other developers, with the city ultimately responsible only for the portion of the facilities that serve city streets.
Contacted Wednesday, Oct. 9, Linville reiterated the need for the stormwater and wetlands improvements.
"I am looking for citywide solutions," Linville said. "If Costco could benefit from this, that's great. We're going to benefit from it."
Linville said it was up to Costco officials to confirm that they have committed to a new store off Bakerview.