Syresays he’s ‘bullish’ on Blaine

Published on Thu, Feb 22, 2007 by ack Kintner

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Syre says he’s ‘bullish’ on Blaine

By Jack Kintner

David Syre is bullish on Blaine’s future though like Fairhaven developer Ken Imus, he says that Blaine’s potential may take some years to fully develop.

Syre, 66, is president and CEO of the Trillium Corporation, an international development company that has interests in North and South America.

His first project was the Snowater Condominium project just east of Glacier built in 1974. Trillium also developed the Wilder Farm north of Bellingham into the Cordata office complex, adjacent to Whatcom Community College, and began developing the four-star Semiahmoo Resort and residential community in Blaine in the early 1980’s.

Syre’s interest in Blaine has to do with the resort’s future. According to Dan Washburn, owner and CEO of Windermere Realty in Whatcom County, who was interviewed on this subject last year, to be viable for the long term Semiahmoo needs to find ways to increase customer traffic.

In a conversation earlier this week, Syre agreed, saying that a revitalized downtown Blaine would be key in not only the resort’s survival but in going beyond that to creating a major destination resort at Semiahmoo.

“We can cooperate together to bring a new kind of retail experience here, one that I call organic,” he said, “that emphasizes local and regional businesses instead of national chains.” Blaine, in Syre’s vision, would be unique, characterized by diversity, originality and planning that takes advantage of its natural setting.

When asked to provide an example, he said “Well, La Conner is a good example, and Fairhaven. There are models in the area for us to look at. And of course we’d be tying that into residential, though it’s going to take quite a bit of time.”

Syre said that he doesn’t feel that Bellingham’s rejection of so-called big box stores will affect Blaine, nor will commercial development currently planned for sites along or near Birch Bay-Lynden Road west of I-5.

“There’s room for both. I’m not necessarily opposed to big box stores,” he said, “but that’s the kind of thing that should happen at the airport. To the extent that they’re viable in Blaine, I don’t know if they are.” For downtown Blaine he said he envisioned “destination type uses, like spas and restaurants. La Conner doesn’t have a large grocery store,” he added, “and people don’t seem to miss it.”

Syre was careful to point out, when asked if he has plans for the airport property, that “first, it’s a local decision as to whether or not there’s to be an airport, and we can’t participate in that in a meaningful way because we don’t have all the information, but if the land were to become available then we’d certainly be interested in a long term land lease and in building something like Cordata, which would do well in diversifying the economic and social opportunities for Blaine.”

Syre was understandably reluctant to discuss specific projects he may have in mind for the short term, but when asked about persistent rumors that he’s given up on Blaine, he said emphatically that “No, I haven’t given up, but I have gone back to property owners and have said that with the initial ideas about pricing, after we’ve analyzed them, they just don’t work. We’re getting lots of cooperation in this from landowners, though, and some very serious discussions are going on.”

Another piece to this puzzle involves pedestrian-friendly methods of moving visitors between Semiahmoo and a revitalized downtown Blaine. Syre suggested that one way to do that would be to build a tram, much like the one that serves Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, though he added that this is highly speculative at this point.
Other suggestions for moving people across the harbor entrance, such as boats or bridges, have practical limitations.

Developer Joel Douglas has proposed a ferry connecting Blaine’s downtown with Semiahmoo and Point Roberts, but Port of Bellingham officials have said that the necessary infrastructure to do this may be prohibitive, and that if the port were to build anything in the way of piers for a car ferry service it would expect to recoup the costs somehow.

Other Trillium employees have commented that an aerial tram is much less invasive than a bridge, especially a bridge that would carry automobile traffic, and could integrate well with a waterfront that allows for such things as access to downtown for boaters and mixed residential and commercial use in what has traditionally been a marine commercial district.