When traveling between Seattle and Vancouver, Bellingham tends to be the place to stop on the way. We’re striving to be a place that travelers don’t just pass through, but decide to stay and visit for a weekend. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership is one of the leading forces making downtown a place for economic and cultural growth, as well as a magnet for visitors.
DBP is a nonprofit that specifically works to generate energy around downtown events and businesses. Executive director Nick Hartrich has a clear vision of what he wants the area to be, and he is turning that vision into a reality. Along with existing events like the Downtown Sounds summer concert series, Bite of Bellingham, and monthly art walks, there are plenty of new events and projects Hartrich is planning and leading this year. This September, the DBP helped Sustainable Connections launch the Commercial Street Night Market, the only one of its kind in the state. Hartrich has capitalized well on the sense of renewed energy in our downtown, and has brought some great ideas of his own.
For example, the BPD has started a project called Hatch, turning vacancies downtown into pop-up retail shops. Partnering with the entrepreneurship school at Western, the goal of Hatch is to find a long-term tenant for the vacancy. “Downtown has changed a lot even in the past 10 years,” Hartrich said. “We want more people living and working here, which means a safer, more involved and more active community.” The pop-up movement has allowed small business owners, particularly artists and craftspeople, to create their work and sell it without having to get attached long-term to leases.
Kyle Fuller is the marketing director for the DBP. One of the most popular events DBP puts on is the First Friday Art Walks. “It’s a really cool way to see all of downtown and a lot of local art.”
Hartrich admits that Bellingham is going through a bit of an identity crisis. “We are going through that ‘big town small city’ kind of thing and we need to figure out who we want to be,” he said. The parkade, Maritime Heritage Park, empty storefronts on Cornwall — the pattern is clear. If there’s a neglected corner of Bellingham, the DPB is here to spruce it up, make it a destination, and create a home for art and culture.