Road project hinges on Grant deal

City, Columbian debate terms of property sale

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Vancouver is ready to start a $40 million road project that’s needed for development on the city’s waterfront, but it needs one more deal to go through before work can begin. And it’s in a hurry.

But the city and The Columbian are at odds over how much Vancouver should pay the newspaper to buy both a vacated part of Grant Street and property with a building at Sixth and Grant streets. Both are vital to the waterfront access project, city Transportation Manager Thayer Rorabaugh said Friday.

Both Rorabaugh and Columbian publisher Scott Campbell declined to say just what the city’s current offer is, but Columbian Chief Financial Officer Douglas Ness called it “woefully inadequate.”

The city presented a formal purchase offer, which Ness said he expects Campbell to counter as early as next week.

For Vancouver, the sooner the deal is completed the better, Rorabaugh said.

The city needs to begin work this summer to catch the construction season. Vancouver must reroute BNSF Railway trains onto temporary tracks before October, when heavy Christmas commerce and grain transport from the Midwest kicks off and the railroad can’t risk an interruption, he said.

The road project is part of Vancouver’s deal with waterfront project developer Gramor Development of Tualatin, Ore. Investors expect to build more than $900 million of mid-rise condominiums, offices, boutiques and restaurants on the 32-acre former industrial site.

Plans are to open Grant Street, which lies along the east side of the The Columbian’s press and offices at 701 W. Eighth St., and is currently closed to through traffic. The city vacated the street in the 1950s.

Crews must lower the intersection at Sixth and Grant streets to create a new 16.5 foot clearance underneath two existing railroad bridges.

That work will reduce the amount of parking for Columbian employees and also require an easement on the west side of the street to allow Grant to cross the diagonal train tracks at a 90-degree angle, Rorabaugh said.

How much parking the city’s work will eat up is a matter of dispute:

Rorabaugh said that with a parking-lot redesign by the city, The Columbian would lose 31 spaces. Ness said the number is three times that.

Dropping the grade on Sixth Street will make the building at 615 W. Sixth St. — owned by The Columbian but leased by Petlock Inc. — inaccessible, so the city must buy it as well, Rorabaugh said.

The city cannot start issuing construction contracts until it reaches an agreement with The Columbian, or until Campbell signs a permission of use document, which allows the city to begin work with the understanding that the two parties will eventually come to an agreement.

“I’m hoping (Campbell) will sign that as soon as possible,” Rorabaugh said.

Ness, however, said the company prefers that the two agreements — the permission of use and the sale of the properties — be signed together.

Rorabaugh said Grant Street has been part of the city’s plans for waterfront access for years, and that it had outside assessors conduct a survey back when the real estate market was better. When an assessor looked at the properties again recently, Rorabaugh said, the value had dropped by about one third, due to the market crash.

The company maintains that that is an unacceptable loss.

“We’re hopeful that we can keep their timetable on track,” Campbell said. “If things go well, then their timetable will be on track.”