A response to a question posed on the Bellingham Herald.
there were two sites, the other just up the street from the winning location, and both sites had the same
appraised value giving the public (the port) the same potential rate of return at
buildout, I weighed the project pros and cons differently than the
growth is a mixed blessing, but needless to say, it is becoming a problem for residents. More, expensive
traffic mitigations are being planned. There is increased noise, of
course. And we seem to have a hard time capturing the airport visitor here
locally for more than a few hours which means they come here for the airport
but don't really spend much money. So I believe we at the Port need to
start looking more carefully at balancing demands on the airport which
didn't really need to be done when it was a sleepier little place.
the typical Bellingham International Airport (BLI) customer is value conscious, which was confirmed again by
the people from IHG, the owners of Holiday Inn brands, who told us why a
Holiday Inn flagged hotel makes the most sense at BLI. That means
airport visitors come to Whatcom County but they aren't really
being captured by our local economy.
A hotel at
the airport won't do much to enhance visitor capture for the broader business
base, either, because they will find long term parking, a room and a restaurant just a short walk
from the terminal (the nearness to the terminal is a plus), which is itself
just a mile from the nearest fueling stations adjacent to an I-5 on/off ramp.
Granted, and to be fair, any conferences held here should spill over into the broader economy but conferences are booked online not by a random drive by and the local amenities are the attraction for the conferees not freeway visibility.
So, in light
of the fact that there were two sites available, the outcome for the lease
would be the same and the outcome for the service - rooms, conference space
and a restaurant at the airport - would be the same I looked at the project
in a broader context.
site is forested, sloping, wet and offers a buffer along an already overcrowded
freeway frontage. The other is flat, mostly unforested, dry and sits on a
corner at Bakerview and Airport Way, the only street into the terminal
advantage to the freeway site is the visibility of the structure to passing
traffic, essentially an advertising opportunity and I don't fault the
proponents for desiring that opportunity, I would probably do the same
thing. Yet a traveler now is not driving by and picking the first hotel
they see when they get sleepy, but if they did, in this case that sleepy traveler will come across the
Hampton Inn at the exit first, anyway. No,this hotel is aimed at the air traveler
and small conferences where people will want better air travel access.
So in that
broader context of the project I didn't think it appropriate to assume
the sites have equal value. The freeway site has a difficult to price
"locational" value based on it's visibility but there was no premium
placed on the property by the appraiser for that visibility and, therefore, no
improved value to the property owners, the citizens of Whatcom
parking area for the hotel is designed to abut hard up against the highway
right of way offering no opportunity to replace even a small portion of the
lost landscape buffer. Which means the experience you will have driving by
this site on I-5 will be same old, "me too" urban drive-by
offering nothing at all new, local or interesting to the visitors the airport
Don't get me
wrong, the structure will look nice for sure, but if the airport is
bringing in 600,000 fliers and probably over a million total visitors we should
be looking at offering a somewhat different, more unique experience
for that visitor that they won't see by just driving another 35 minutes south,
or in Everett, or Seattle, or Chehalis (where I grew up) or Vancouver,
WA. I believe that by offering a more unique experience we can capture that visitor for more than a night at a hotel 300 feet from the terminal they are flying out of and back to before they jump in a car and head straight to the freeway.
difficult to be unique in a global marketplace, for sure, so to me part of the
uniqueness in this case is the simple fact that our airport freeway frontage is
*not* all urban buildout that looks like every other urban buildout on the I-5
corridor. It's not much, I know, but it's here already and it's free.
short, the airport can now support a nice hotel so, sure let's put one in and
get that small, yet measurable economic development boost. But having two, equally valuable sites
available, both with nearly equal access to the airport terminal, a provable demand factor for the
product driven by the airport not our region and, in the end, an equal rate of return for both the property
owners and the proponent I couldn't just ignore the downsides of the development.
With an equal upside for both sites, excepting the visibility, the freeway frontage site has a greater impact and, therefore, I couldn't support the project at that location.