Nick Hartrich is the Executive Director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, which is devoted to uniting the diverse interests of downtown by bridging gaps between visitors and businesses, and businesses and the local community.
What brought you to Bellingham?
I came to Western Washington University. Ultimately, the best school between Bellingham and Boston. I grew up in Alaska so I was looking for a place that was ecologically compatible, while being located between two major metropolitan areas. I wanted a chance to live life in the lower 48 without breaking the bank.
What’s your favorite spot to relax in Bellingham?
It’s good to know that I don’t relax much at all. I’m a hands-on type of guy, so I’m most comfortable actively working on the things that most need to get done. Designing, building, fabricating, dreaming. All that counts as fun to me, and fun = relaxing, I guess.
What’s your perfect Bellingham weekend?
Point my bicycle in any direction and go. I picked up a nice Linus Roadster in Portland a few years ago (think Dutch banker style). It’s a work bike, it’s a pub bike, it’s an everything bike that gets me from A to B. Beyond work and the pub, of course.
What do you love best about your job?
I took this job because I saw the opportunity to influence change. Bellingham is at this pivotal point. I’ve not seen it quite like this before. We actually have a city that’s responsive to a lot of amazing ideas. The City has fully recognized they’re not the creative agency in town (it’s not their job). We can step in and be that, with the partnership of private stakeholders.
I lived in Portland for a few years, learning from the best agencies in the world focused on urban renewal…. and honestly they don’t need me down there. Portland is already knocking it out of the park. However, it’s Bellingham that needs more creative drivers in town. The more of us there are, the better chance we have at building a city that KEEPS more of us here.
What do people not understand about your organization?
A lot. We’ve been an organization for over 15 years, but I don’t think we’ve done a good job communicating how or what we actually do. We’ve been a membership organization in the past (we’re not anymore). We host a lot of events downtown, but there hasn’t been a solid connection to why the DBP is the agency responsible for creating cultural vibrancy downtown. It’s not the city’s job to facilitate that. However, it is a brand a new day and that connection between our effectiveness and necessity as an organization is the strongest it has ever been. We’re about to push the envelope for what agencies in our wheelhouse dream of doing, and it can’t happen without your help.
Is there a new business or organization you’d like to see in Bellingham?
A boutique hotel, like Ace Hotel style. Where is our downtown- boutique-funky-brewpub-on-the-ground-floor hotel? I don’t know why we don’t have one. We absolutely need one.
It’s probably what I’ll end up doing if this doesn’t work out. Or creating some sort of live/work private owner-occupied housing. We also need that. Much more of that.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I just finished a book called Pop-Up City. It’s written by a couple of Dutch authors that looked at every small scale urban success story. They’re all over the world. A lot of them are in Holland, Scandinavia and San Francisco. It’s a fun snap shot of the many ways to spend creative energy building downtowns that are pro-business and pro-people.
Is there a Bellingham restaurant or brewery the world needs to know about?
Yes, there’s quite a few. But Ormolulu is probably the funkiest shop in downtown. The owners would classify it as an antique/vintage shop. I would call it a historical mind trip. It’s the most quirky, creative space I’ve seen in Bellingham. Prove me wrong please.
If you have a sunny day free, what are you doing?
Does it have to be sunny? There are no free days in my world.
What are people always surprised to learn about you?
Nothing, if you know me. Everything, if you don’t. Usually.
Do you have a favorite spot downtown?
Yes, and it changes. It was Maritime Heritage Park for a little bit. Now it’s Hatch, 1302 Commercial St (our vacancy to vitality business incubator). My favorite spot changes based on the current project I’m obsessed about. Next month it will be something else that is transitional and isn’t totally polished. I like those spaces.
If you had to enroll at Western today, what would you major in?
Is that a degree? That sounds awesome.
No, I would design my own degree. It would be a blend of tactical urbanism and economic development.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should?
The work I’m proposing downtown is in many ways an experiment. Some ideas are going to make a lot of people uncomfortable, others will be radically inspired. The feedback has been nearly all positive, which tells me that this City is ready for an exciting upshift towards the next decade of economic growth. It’s moving beyond subdued, quickly. My hope is that we also work to make this place the most creative, unique and fun small city on the planet.