‘I just keep moving’

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Jeff Kochman has his hands in several Bellingham development projects

Jeff Kochman, president of AMBK LLC, combines vision, confidence, determination and a willingness to tread the necessary steps as he develops real estate from empty spaces to finished completion. He adds to that mix a whole lot of tough work.

In June, construction crews began moving dirt on AMBK’s latest project, a new waterfront development near LFS Marine & Outdoor at Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham. The project consists of two buildings designed for use as office, warehouse and industrial space. Kochman says although there are no confirmed tenants yet, he expects to lease space to companies involved in manufacturing, assembly, tech, production and marine-related enterprises.

AMBK is a real estate development and investment company focused on medical office, mixed use (residential and commercial), industrial and land development.
The company was launched in April 2015 and Kochman works with three part-time staff. He said he typically hires third parties for most of the work he does to keep costs trimmed. He has access to an office, as needed, and primarily works out of his home.

“As things grow, I may formally set up an office,” he said.

Kochman is accustomed to the efforts necessary to develop properties into finished facilities. Until 2016, he served as president and CEO of Barkley Company, which owns Barkley Village, an urban property familiar to many in Whatcom County for its mix of restaurants, retail, entertainment and residential housing.

When Kochman left Barkley, he shifted his focus to AMBK and finishing an industrial build in the Irongate area of Bellingham.

“I’m moving forward,” he said. “Moving at a smaller scale than I used to with Barkley, but I just keep moving.”

The new waterfront development at Roeder and Hilton avenues would have moved forward earlier, were it not for a few complications.

“This project took four years to get permitted,” he said.

Construction on the waterfront involves meeting multi-tiered regulations for development, including in the areas of the environment, landscaping, building appearance and zoning.
Meanwhile, Kochman was overseeing an AMBK expansion to the Barkley Medical Building at 2075 Barkley Boulevard. and attempting, with developer Jeff McClure of RMC Architects, to purchase the old JCPenney building in downtown Bellingham for a mix of residential, retail and office space.

Kochman had hoped to break ground on the waterfront property in fall 2019, but to trim costs he ended up shelving the project temporarily and revising the design.

Enter 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order in March halted construction projects throughout the state.

In late April, the sounds of construction activity recommenced for projects already being built. But because the waterfront property had not been permitted at that time, Kochman said, it was not among them.

Steel arrived for the first 12,500 square foot building in early August. Kochman anticipates seeing progress begin soon on the second facility, which will contain about 6,200 square feet of usable space.

Both facilities are scheduled for completion in the first half of 2021.

Kochman said he is still interested in developing the former JCPenney site on Cornwall Avenue. Momentum on that project took a nosedive after he and McClure experienced a series of setbacks. The developers offered $712,000 to Bruce Tolchin of Whatcom Center LLC to buy the building. However, other Tolchin family members challenged Bruce Tolchin’s right to sell the building, while the City of Bellingham committed to working with Kochman and McClure on the project. Bruce Tolchin passed away. Today the building continues to sit gathering dust while the issue of who owns it and who can legally sell the building for development remains unresolved. “Jeff McClure and I are still interested,” Kochman said.

Kochman graduated from Washington State University with a degree in business administration. He is a past board member of Junior Achievement of Washington and the current treasurer and secretary for the Northwest Innovation Resource Center.

He received the Business Person of the Year award from Whatcom Business Alliance in 2011 and a Leadership Achievement Award from Junior Achievement of Washington in 2007.

Life is quieter these days, Kochman says, but he stays involved through conversations with businesses considering new construction projects or renovations of existing properties.

“I like this type of work, the people I have relationships with, and the numerous possibilities,” he said.