Rent-free deal in Bellingham’s Parkade intended to draw paying tenant

Vacant retail space owned by the city will host a business experiment intended to attract an occupant, if the City Council approves a rent-free deal with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

What the city might get in return, eventually, is a paying tenant. The space at the Parkade, 1302 Commercial St., hasn’t housed a business for four years, said Nick Hartrich, the partnership’s executive director.

The partnership would work with other business development groups to give startups a place to do business in the vacant Parkade location. If one of them succeeds, it could lease the space more permanently. The space also would host a film and lecture series, and art walk openings, Hartrich said.

“Every week we’re planning to have an event,” he said. “We think that will open minds and open ideas for potential use of this space.”

The partnership would pay a leaseholder’s tax, a one-month deposit and utility costs. The council will be asked to waive the $1,450 monthly rent and offer a month-to-month lease.

“It’s a pretty low-risk investment on the city’s front,” Hartrich said. If the program succeeds at the Parkade, it would move to another vacant storefront, he said.

The lease agreement is scheduled to go before the council for a vote at its 7 p.m. meeting on Monday, June 1. Council meets at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

The partnership’s proposal follows an unsuccessful bid in 2013 by Commercial Street Theatre Project to build a 216-seat theater in the spaces at 1302, 1306 and 1310 Commercial. Two of those three storefronts now are home to Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism’s downtown office and the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

Council decided in August 2013 not to extend the theater project’s below-market lease after it had raised just $50,000 of its $328,000 fundraising goal.