Leopold residents are angry, hurt about losing their housing downtown
After 33 years, The Leopold will no longer be a retirement community for senior citizens in downtown Bellingham.
Seventy-nine residents living in the landmark building at 1224 Cornwall Ave. have until March 31 to find new homes, and 26 employees will have to find new jobs, according to a news release issued by the building’s owners on Tuesday.
A former hotel, The Leopold was converted into apartments for retirees in 1985. It had 93 units for seniors in an independent-living environment.
The owners cited rising costs and declining occupancy as the reasons for the decision to end operations of The Leopold Retirement Residence.
“Cost in all sectors have increased significantly while, at the same time, our vacancy has risen dramatically to 20 percent over the last nine months,” Peter Frazier, executive director for The Leopold Retirement Residence, told The Bellingham Tuesday in an email interview.
“Competition in the market is strong,” he added.
A housing specialist will help the 79 residents relocate, Frazier said Tuesday in a news release announcing the closure.
“We will be hiring a housing specialist to help our residents and their families in the transition to new homes,” Frazier said. “We care about our residents and their families and want to be proactive in helping them.”
A human resources specialist is being hired to help the 26 workers find new jobs, Frazier said.
Frazier said the building’s owners will announce their plans for the building in 2019.
“They recognize its importance to downtown Bellingham and want to create something that will contribute to the community and be financially sustainable,” Frazier said in the news release.
He said those plans are being developed and declined to say more when The Bellingham Herald asked for additional details.
Residents were informed during a 1 p.m. meeting on Monday. They were shocked and angered by the news, although rumors had been circulating before the announcement.
“We had a bulletin in the elevator for over a week indicating a meeting yesterday at 1 p.m. Rumors were already starting to float on what’s taking place,” 82-year-old Leopold resident Stephane Ligtelyn told The Bellingham Herald on Tuesday.
“Of course, you’ve got 80 people, who, even though it’s a seniors residence, some are very close to belonging in assisted living. So you get different reactions from people. It was shocking,” said Ligtelyn, who moved to The Leopold in September 2017 from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The announcement’s timing was meant to give residents and their families, who are often together this time of the year, as much time as possible to find new homes, Frazier said.
Residents were told that other facilities will come to The Leopold to discuss what they offer and to answer questions, according to Ligtelyn.
“I have the ability, I’m fortunate, to go looking elsewhere,” Ligtelyn said. “I’ll never find a place like this. It’s really something special.”
That’s because of the location, he explained.
“I step outside and I’m a citizen of the community with the additional benefit of now having built up friends and acquaintances in where I stay,” Ligtelyn said, adding that they’ll soon “be scattered.”
Bellingham Equity owns The Leopold.
Downtown developers David Johnston and Bob Hall bought The Leopold in April 2006 for $4.6 million, and the two are members of Bellingham Equity.
The nine-story building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1929, it began as the Leopold Hotel. A four-story addition was built next to it in 1968.
J. Kaye Faulkner and wife Mollie would have lived in The Leopold for a little over 4-1/2 years.
“I had no idea that they were even thinking of closing it down,” Faulker said.
He said some people just moved in about a month ago, and most residents are at least 70 years and older.
“You’re talking about people who are having a difficult time in the first place,” said Faulker, a former economics instructor at Western Washington University and teachers’ union organizer and representative.
The Faulkners are both 86 years old. They pay $2,400 total each month to live at The Leopold, which covers everything including their meals.
Ligtelyn and the Faulkers said the rents at The Leopold were month-to-month.
Now, they’re trying to figure out where to go next.
“If you have a heart,” Faulkner said, “you should be hurt by what they’ve done.”