By Steve Guntli
In a recent presentation, a noted tourism expert gave high marks to most Whatcom County cities, but found Blaine lacking.
Roger Brooks, CEO of Roger Brooks International, tours the country giving seminars on tourism, community branding and destination marketing. On July 20, Brooks made a presentation in Bellingham evaluating the tourism potential for Whatcom County. Brooks gave all the cities along I-5 high marks, but felt Blaine wasn’t living up to its potential.
Brooks said due to its unique location and natural beauty, the city has the most untapped potential of any he’d visited in the Pacific Northwest. One of the major things hurting Blaine was a lack of clear signage. Brooks, in his preliminary visit to the area, had difficulty finding Peace Arch State Park from the highway. Once there, he felt the paid parking station was unwelcoming and he couldn’t find his way to the Peace Arch itself due to a lack of signage.
Brooks also visited the wharf district, but had trouble finding the pier and gave up. He gave positive marks to Marine Park and its trail, but found the parking inconvenient and said the park’s performance amphitheater was grossly underutilized.
In downtown Blaine, Brooks said the plazas were beautiful but empty, and the derelict buildings along Peace Portal Drive sent a bad message to new visitors.
Brooks made a list of suggestions for how Blaine could realize its potential and draw more tourists, including more day-to-day activities, better use of the outdoor space and improving the curb appeal with flowers and benches.
Blaine city manager Dave Wilbrecht attended the seminar and thought Brooks made some valid points.
“He’s a professional, and he has the background and the experience to assess things like this,” Wilbrecht said. “He said a lot of things I’m sure are true from his perspective. And he’s right, there are things we need to work on, but I don’t agree with everything he said. I do agree that we have the potential to become one of the best cities in the Northwest. We’ve just got some work to do.”
Wilbrecht said the city council is prioritizing cleaning up the downtown area and addressing some of the derelict structures that have become nuisances or safety hazards. Blaine’s economic development advisory committee has been brainstorming ways to beautify downtown to attract shoppers.
Brooks separated his comments for Blaine and Semiahmoo, giving high marks to the resort, the marina and the waterside trails.
Brooks also had kind things to say about Birch Bay, and suggested a change in tack for advertising the area: focus on the activities more than the beach. In the long run, Brooks said, companies like Paddle and Pedal Adventures and the Birch Bay Waterslides will provide more consistent draws, while the beach provides an excellent “while you’re there” activity.