Work is now underway on the Blaine Bank Building on Peace Portal Drive and owner and developer Ken Imus is a happy man. “We’re kind of excited, we’ll start building and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “I’m 83 years old,” he added, “I have to hurry.”
Imus, the engine behind the redevelopment of the historic Fairhaven district in Bellingham, has quietly bought up 11 parcels of land in downtown Blaine and he is ready to see the town take off. “We just practiced in Fairhaven, we want to do better in Blaine,” he says, an impish grin on his face.
Or in this case, the old Brown and Cole Red Apple building on Peace Portal Drive.
The design for the building calls for a two-story brick building with a tower (see rendering, page 8). Imus has collected architectural artifacts over the years during his travels – the building will have a little ‘Gai Paree’ in it: Some of the windows are old cast iron windows that come from Paris, while others come from London. “I have a 7,000 square foot warehouse full of old stuff,” he said. “I have to use it.”
The building is designed to look like an old bank building with a twist: the rear of the building features a different style to make it appear to be a separate building. That part faces the large parking lot behind the block and offers additional retail exposure to a tenant.
Although the construction company, Exxel Pacific, has a six-month contract to complete the building, Imus is not letting time go by without being on the hunt for tenants. He says he is approaching major operators ranging from regional restaurant chains to major antique dealers and more. “It could be a restaurant, a steakhouse, perhaps,” he said. The potential tenants he names are all well known in Whatcom County and in the state. He’s had four calls recently from people interested in taking a look and is offering six months free rent to jazz up the offer.
His two sons are also involved in the Blaine development effort. One son just bought 51 percent of the old Seavue Theater property; Ken Imus owns the remainder. “Being owners makes them more emotionally involved,” he points out.
Imus is also aggressively marketing Blaine and its potential to other major players in the region. “To make an impact, you can’t do it with just one building. Right now, I’m talking to six or eight guys – if I get just one of them, that’s more than one now. It will make it easier to get more,” he said.
Imus was full of praise for city hall and his dealings with city council and the staff in the planning and public works departments. “I enjoy working with them and teasing them a little. I once had someone tell [former planning manager] Terry Galvin that they saw my car parked out in front of Custer city hall. When I told him later that they had promised to issue my building permits within a week he just laughed and said both you and I know Custer doesn’t have a city hall.”
Imus singled out the city decision to eliminate utility connection fees for new projects, saying it was a shining example of the city’s willingness to adopt a fresh approach to getting development underway. “I know it’s had an impact,” he said, adding, “I understand Coast Inns is back in discussions about building a property on D Street.”
Imus also mentioned Kathleen Hill, principal of the Salt Lake City-based Community Studio that is working on a project on Port of Bellingham land down at the harbor. “I’m optimistic about that one going through,” he said. Imus talked about some of his other ideas for his Blaine properties. “I don’t know if they’ll all come through,” he said. “But everything starts with a dream.”