Potential new road would benefit Fisher Investments

Camas mulls project that could sway firm to site headquarters locally

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

As the $30 million Fisher Investments’ office complex rises in Camas, the city has turned its attention to plans for a new road to neighboring Vancouver.

The $2.5 million road would connect Vancouver’s Southeast 20th Street with Northwest 38th Avenue in Camas, providing a safer eastbound route for Fisher Investments employees and a possible incentive to make the site into a headquarters campus. Fisher’s new building, the first of two five-story towers planned for the site, is expected to open this fall, said Ken Fisher, founder and chief executive officer of the Woodside, Calif.-based company.

“Of course, the basic rule of construction is it will always take longer than you think it will take,” Fisher said.

In 2007, his $43 billion advisory asset management firm opened an east Vancouver satellite office with 50 employees. Today, that location employs 350 people, a staff Fisher expects will grow to 400 employees by October.

Development potential

Building the less-than-one-mile-long connector between Southeast 20th and Northwest 38th Avenue would also open the area up for development, said Paul Dennis, Camas mayor. For now, vacant sites near the Fisher campus are poorly connected to Vancouver via the curves of Southeast Bybee Road.

Costco originally looked at the area, but rejected it in favor of its current 192nd Avenue and First Street site because of road concerns, Dennis said.

The proposed link between 20th and 38th is Camas’ top transportation priority. The city has earmarked $400,000 to design the project, which will extend Southeast 20th from its stubbed-off ending just past 192nd Avenue east to Southeast Armstrong Drive.

Camas also has applied for funding to build the project through the state’s Public Works Trust Fund, a budget legislators will hammer out this spring.

“Camas does not really have any other street improvements funded at this time,” said Jim Carothers, the city’s engineer.

Although Camas will likely finance the roadwork as the project’s lead developer, Bill Whitcomb, Vancouver’s finance and capital planning manager, said Vancouver will benefit from the connection as well.

“Obviously, we’re interested in the project moving forward. It would provide another good east-west connection between the two communities,” Whitcomb said.

Vancouver’s capital road fund is nearly exhausted, transportation officials in that city have said. Just enough money remains to finish up a few priority projects, such as the first phase of widening Northeast 18th Street and providing access to the waterfront from downtown.

The city council has considered creating a $20 car license fee to raise $2.1 million a year for road projects, though it has not yet held a public hearing or voted on the proposal.

Camas hopes to see the roadwork near Fisher Investments start later this year, Dennis said.

“If all went according to plan, I would say the latter part of this year would be the most optimistic,” he said.

Dennis added the road project could hurry along Fisher Investment’s decision on whether to make the Camas site into a permanent headquarters.

“Are they going to walk away? I doubt it. Will they build the corporate center there? They could build it anywhere, or they could stay where they’re at,” Dennis said.

Still in contention

CEO Fisher confirmed Camas is still one of three sites being considered for his company’s corporate relocation, along with sites in Texas and Florida.

The 60-year-old Forbes columnist and stock-market forecaster has long expressed his dismay with California’s business climate. Among other issues, he has said that state’s 9.3 percent personal income tax affects his workers, who earn an average of between $75,000 and $200,000 annually.

Most of the company’s 1,155 employees report to the firm’s main operation center in San Mateo, Calif., near Woodside.

Fisher said Camas land tracts, schools and housing also played a major role in attracting his firm.

“It’s virtually impossible for our younger employees to afford to buy a home in the San Francisco Bay area,” Fisher said.