Businessmen Curt O’Connor and Pete Dawson have completed their purchase of the Armory property in Bellingham from the Western Washington University Foundation.
The 1.3-acre property was purchased from the Foundation for $1.5 million and includes the historic, 60,000-square-foot Armory building, and the adjacent annex site.
O’Connor and Dawson, who have been friends since their childhood Armory roller skating days, have brainstormed over the years about the building’s potential.
“Our objective is to preserve this iconic structure and ideally repurpose it in a way that will provide public benefit,” said O’Connor, who owns a real estate investment firm. O’Connor and Dawson will seek community input as they move forward with plans for the property.
Working with RMC Architects and local real estate professional David Johnston, the new ownership team is exploring how best to take advantage of the building’s exceptional features – including the Chuckanut sandstone facade, heavy timber roof beams and bay views.
Dawson, who is president of Dawson Construction in Bellingham, and RMC collaborated on the resurrection of the historic Lynden Department Store, now known as the Waples Mercantile Building. As with that project, Dawson and O’Connor envision exciting possibilities for the Armory that put a historic community asset back in active use.
The sale concludes an option agreement to purchase the Armory property from the Western Washington University Foundation.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit Western’s award-winning Compass 2 Campus program.
The Compass 2 Campus program at Western’s Woodring College of Education pairs Western student mentors with 5th through 12th grade students from traditionally underrepresented and diverse backgrounds in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
The Armory building, on North State Street a few blocks from Western’s campus, was built in 1910 as a site for military training. Both the National Guard and Army Reserve used the facility until 1953. During 1953-1989, the main floor was used as a roller rink. Water damage forced closure of the roller rink in 1989. Many local residents still recall fond memories of afternoons and evenings spent at the Rolladium.
In 1972, WWU acquired the property from the National Guard for one dollar. In addition to allowing the rink to remain until 1989, the University used the structure to house the Theatre Arts Department Prop & Scene Shop, Costume Shop, and surplus storage.
After several years of assessment and review, Western leadership determined that the University had no further use for the building other than temporary storage, and thus the best future for this building would be to sell to a third party that has a vision for its revitalization and redevelopment.
To maximize flexibility in working with a potential developer, the University transferred the Armory property to the WWU Foundation in January 2016, with the intent that the Foundation would identify a qualified buyer for the Armory.
The Western Washington University Foundation exists to generate private support for the benefit of Western Washington University. It is a non-profit, public 501(c)(3) organization that is independent of the university and its Board is comprised of alumni, donors and community members who are dedicated to the advancement of Western’s mission.