Business

This is what’s next for the Leopold building in downtown Bellingham

The Leopold: A timeline of a Bellingham landmark

The Leopold has been a landmark in downtown Bellingham, Wash., since it was built as a hotel in 1929. It spent three decades as a retirement community before closing in 2019.
Up Next
The Leopold has been a landmark in downtown Bellingham, Wash., since it was built as a hotel in 1929. It spent three decades as a retirement community before closing in 2019.

The Leopold is going back to its roots while also trying to address Bellingham’s apartment crunch.

The owners announced on Friday, April 5, that they plan to convert the historic building at 1224 Cornwall Ave. into a 31-room hotel and 61-unit apartment facility. The hotel will be known as Hotel Leo while the residential portion will be known as The Leopold Apartments, according to a news release.

The apartments will be in the older, nine-floor tower originally built in 1929, while the hotel will be in the three-story motor inn addition. The apartments will be studio, one- and two-bedroom with monthly rates ranging from $950 to $2,000. The apartments will be ready to rent through Daylight Properties beginning June 1.

The hotel and apartment residents will share the use of a fitness facility, a social lounge, a deck and a library. A lease is also being finalized for a business to operate the 10,000-square-foot ground floor as a restaurant and bar that could also hold events such as weddings, concerts and meetings.

The Leopold was used as a retirement facility before it closed last month. All 79 seniors living there moved to new homes, with the last person in the residence moving out on March 9. In making the announcement about closing the retirement facility last December, the owners cited rising costs and declining occupancy.

Hotel renovations ‘will combine the old and new’

The hotel/apartment combination addresses several downtown issues. The apartment vacancy rate in Bellingham, particularly near Western Washington University, remains extremely low. According to a survey done last fall by the Runstad Department of Real Estate at the University of Washington, Whatcom County’s apartment vacancy rate was 0.24 percent. Of the 17,413 apartment units surveyed, only 42 were available last fall.

Bringing a hotel component to the downtown district is something that has been considered for years, and the owners believe it will fill a high-demand hospitality gap. Reservations for Hotel Leo rooms will be accepted starting May 1 for its July 1 opening.

Rasbach_TheLeopold01.jpg
Michael Brown, a painter for Absolute Drywall and Paint, paints a doorway on the first floor of The Leopold Apartments in downtown Bellingham on Friday. David Rasbach The Bellingham Herald

“Downtown Bellingham is becoming known throughout the region for its walkability and vibrant mix of restaurants, stores, bars and breweries. Adding a modern, high-quality hotel within walking distance of everything is a way to support and grow with the neighborhood,” said Hotel Leo co-owner Peter Frazier in the news release.

Frazier and his wife Aimee helped play a role in developing Bellingham’s Heliotrope Hotel in 2016. The Fraziers and Bob Hall are co-owners of Hotel Leo and the Heliotrop Hotel. Jamie Verkist is the general manager of both hotels.

Many of the furnishings in the Hotel Leo’s studio and one-bedroom units will be sourced locally, coming from the nearby stores Greenhouse and Ideal. In the apartment building, work is underway to restore the terrazzo floors in the lobby as well as the stairway.

The property will pay homage to the original use as the Byron Hotel. It became the Leopold Hotel after it was purchased in 1910. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

“The renovations of the property and styling of the hotel will combine the old and new,” said Hall, who has redeveloped several downtown Bellingham buildings, including The Herald Building. “We are restoring as many of the building’s original features as possible.”

An early look at restoration work in the lobby will be available during a benefit fundraiser on May 3. The fundraiser will benefit the Bellingham public radio station KMRE. The event will feature the musical group The Atlantics from 7-11 p.m. in the Hotel Leo’s Crystal Ballroom.

For updates about the hotel, visit thehotelleo.com. For updates on apartment availability, visit daylightproperties.com.

Follow more of our reporting on Whatcom Business

See all 10 stories
Related stories from Bellingham Herald

Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.
  Comments