Council member reinvigorates council economic development committee

Published on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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One of Blaine’s newest city council members has taken it upon himself to restart a committee designed to drum up economic development in Blaine.

Clark Cotner was assigned to the Blaine City Council economic development committee when he took the council spot left vacant by Alan Black last year. After taking some time to get used to his new position, Cotner figured he could have real impact on the city as a member of the committee.

About two months ago, Cotner started monthly meetings of the committee, something he said had never really been consistently done before. He and city council member Ken Oplinger sit on the committee, as do a handful of Blaine business owners and local real estate agents.

The mission of the committee, in Cotner’s eyes, is simple: “Literally, [we’re] trying to fill up buildings in downtown,” Cotner said.

Cotner and other members of the committee have spent most of the summer reaching out to business associates and contacts they have in other areas of Whatcom County seeking small business owners who might not necessarily be happy in their current situations. Cotner said he’s been particularly interested in tenants of buildings that have been handed over to a bank, since their leases are typically month-to-month.

“There’s a lot of commercial property in this county that’s in foreclosure,” Cotner said.

Cotner said he has been contacting these small business owners and telling them about all the vacant commercial space in downtown Blaine. After a few months, Cotner said he has accumulated about five interested parties with whom he’s planning an eventual walking tour of the city.

Blaine needs business owners who are willing to stay in downtown, not just hang on for two or three years and then move on, Cotner said. The city has the real estate to accommodate a variety of small businesses, and all the city needs is the people.

“We’ve got to chase them, but we’ll find them,” Cotner said. “All the ingredients are here.”

Cotner said he would like to see Blaine turn into a tourist destination, similar to White Rock just across the border, Fairhaven in Bellingham or La Conner in Skagit County. Cotner said he has been amazed at the growth of small, homegrown shops in La Conner, with no hint of national chains, and wonders why it can’t happen to Blaine.

“I think this is one of the most gorgeous places in the world,” Cotner said. “I look over at White Rock, and I think, ‘Why not Blaine?’”

Bonnie Onyon, long-time Blaine resident and fellow city council member, shares Cotner’s enthusiasm for development in Blaine. Onyon said she’s glad Blaine has a collection of like-minded individuals working to improve the Peace Arch City.

Onyon has helped committee members understand the city’s rural economic development (RED) loan program. Through this program, individuals can borrow up to $50,000  at low interest through the city to improve an existing business or get a new one off the ground.

The city has received and approved three RED loan applications totalling $100,000 so far in 2012 Blaine finance director Jeff Lazenby said.