New Public-Private Partnership Unveils Plan to Revitalize Former JCPenney Building, Downtown Bellingham Partnership Announces Support

Vacant for 30 years, new agreement proposes redevelopment of the former department store building into a vibrant mixed-use retail and residential hub

The City of Bellingham announced Monday a public-private partnership proposal to purchase and redevelop the former JCPenney building on Cornwall Avenue in Downtown Bellingham.  The proposed agreement would repurpose the long-vacant structure into a mixed-use residential, office and retail development, bringing 50 to 90 apartment units, three ground-floor retail spaces, wide-reaching exterior and public space improvements and an underground parking garage.

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership announced support for the project, emphasizing the wide-reaching positive impact on repurposing the large vacancy into a space fitting the modern needs of Downtown Bellingham.

“We are ecstatic to have plans on the table that would take this massive vacancy and turn it into a flagship building for downtown, and we adamantly support this project,” Alice Clark, Executive Director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, said.  “This redevelopment would mark a new era for the city center, bringing market rate housing and retail spaces fitting what our community has been asking for.”

The organization’s support for the project stems from years of public feedback, survey results and comments hoping to see the building revitalized, Clark said.  The Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s strategic goals, which are shaped by community surveys and feedback, include adding more market-rate residential options within downtown and recruiting new retailers and entrepreneurial businesses. The proposed redevelopment of the JCPenney building would create high-quality additions to both.

Vacant since 1988, the building lost its namesake tenant with the opening of the Bellis Fair Mall that year.  All four of the major department stores located downtown (The Bon Marché, Nordstrom Place Two, Sears and JCPenney) relocated to the mall upon opening, resulting in a critical loss of these anchor tenants for the downtown district. The JCPenney building has remained the only former department store space still vacant.

Downtown Bellingham has seen a surge in new business openings and interest in downtown within the past several years, including several large projects also located on Cornwall Avenue.  While many previously-vacant spaces have been repurposed or occupied as part of this growth, the size and layout of the JCPenney building presented substantial challenges for prospective tenants or developers.  With no private market solutions over the 30-year vacancy, a public-private partnership provided the platform needed to redevelop the property.

“As it stands, the JCPenney building is a remnant of a bygone era in retailing,” Clark said.  “The sheear size and design of the structure doesn't fit today’s needs, which is why this proposal is such an exciting thing. The redesign pays homage to the building’s past while repurposing it in a way that fits the modern needs of our community, and after decades, that was only going to happen with a strategic public-private partnership.”

The proposed partnership consists of an agreement between the City of Bellingham and local developers, Jeff McClure and Jeff Kochman.  In the proposal, the City would purchase the land and the private developers would purchase the building, with terms ensuring its redevelopment and that the public investment is paid back over time.

Bellingham City Council will hold a public hearing for the proposal on Sept. 24, where Mayor Kelli Linville will bring forward a development agreement. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership encourages community support for the project,and will be present at the hearing to advocate for acceptance of the development agreement.

“Revitalizing this building means we willnot onlybe giving life back to a blightedlong-term vacancy, but also providing additional housing for downtown and new retail spaces that match the market,” Clark said.  “This is a viable and impactful solution, and we encourage all constituents to join us in recommending that Council approve the plan and agreement.”

To learn more about the Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s analysis and support of this project, visit www.downtownbellingham.com/JCPbuilding

For more information on the proposed agreement and the development plans, please visit www.cob.org/downtown.

DBP