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Beautifying the neglected Fountain Plaza is a priority. But this is causing a delay

Business owners are worried about the Fountain District’s future

As businesses close and buildings sit vacant, business owners are wondering what's next for Bellingham's Fountain District. Now, the City of Bellingham has a plan to help revitalize the district.
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As businesses close and buildings sit vacant, business owners are wondering what's next for Bellingham's Fountain District. Now, the City of Bellingham has a plan to help revitalize the district.

The most public piece of the city of Bellingham’s plan to revitalize the Fountain District has hit a temporary snag.

That piece is the Fountain Plaza, across Meridian Street from the RE Store and adjacent to Diamond Jim’s Grill, which will get a new look.

The space, which includes benches and a water fountain, serves as the gateway to the district.

The neglected plaza is the only public space in the district, and the community has been interested for at least 10 years in being able to reuse the space, Darby Cowles, senior planner for the city of Bellingham, said in an earlier interview with The Bellingham Herald.

But a redesigned plaza and fountain will take a bit longer.

The city had hoped to start renovating the Fountain Plaza this summer. But it received just one bid for the project, and it came in at nearly twice the estimated $307,586.

The lone bidder was RAM Construction of Bellingham, which put in a $614,155 bid, according to city documents.

“The bid timing and the type of construction, which is rather complicated concrete work, did not lend itself well to the current construction and bid climate,” said Nicole Oliver, parks development manager for the city of Bellingham.

Contractors said the city might have better luck if the design was simplified and the project put out to bid again in fall, when the construction industry isn’t so busy.

For example, Oliver said that general contractors couldn’t even get a price quote from subcontractors — primarily for the plumbing and concrete — for the work.

If the new timeline works, the Fountain Plaza renovation could occur during winter.

As for what that redesign will look like, that’s still being determined.

The simplification could include changing some of the curvilinear lines around the fountain into more of a grid pattern, according to Oliver.

Regardless, it will still look like a concrete plaza with a fountain, Oliver said of the redesign.

“No one’s going to know what the differences are. It’s just going to be easier to build,” she said.

What if the redesign and new timeline don’t bring down the project costs?

“If this doesn’t work, then we’re really going to have to go back to the drawing board,” Oliver said. “But our hope is we can cut out some of the complexity and make it a little more streamline of a design and still keep the key elements.”

Money for the project will come from park impact fees and private donations.

Water is part of the area’s history.

It was originally a place for animals and livestock to stop for fresh water as they travel through, according to the city of Bellingham.

When streetcars became part of the landscape, the plaza served as the center of a new commercial area.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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