What about old City Hall?

Vancouver Public Schools will study possible future uses of downtown site

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Vancouver’s move from its old City Hall on 13th Street could leave a big hole in a sector now being touted as the new gateway to downtown. Or the site’s owners, Vancouver Public Schools, could create a new use for the building that brings academic vibrancy or jobs to an area that’s already gaining redevelopment momentum.

That’s what local real estate experts and property owners would like to see happen with the five-story building, which will be owned by the school district once the city removes the last of its belongings. City employees vacated the building in August, moving to a newer downtown building and leaving a blank space on the third block west of the Mill Plain Boulevard link with Interstate 5.

Some are calling the I-5 exit the new front door to Vancouver, amid plans for a Columbia River Crossing that call for a higher bridge that could pass over the busier Sixth Street exit that also feeds into downtown.

“That’s getting to be a better part of town,” said Roger Qualman, chief operating officer of NAI Norris, Beggs & Simpson commercial real estate firm in Vancouver.

There are rumors that the old City Hall could house the school district’s administrative offices or it be redeveloped into an innovative new school the district proposes to focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

But the school district has not yet decided what it will do with the building and its 124-space parking garage, said Todd Horenstein, assistant superintendent for facility support services.

“We haven’t ruled anything in or out at this point,” he said. “We’ll look at all the options, including how to best use that site for district purposes.”

The old City Hall building at 210 E. 13th St. is surrounded by about $83.5 million worth of revitalization projects, including:

• The $16 million, two-building Prestige Plaza apartment project, breaking ground this year two blocks west of the freeway on the block formerly occupied by Burgerville’s oldest restaurant and the Vancouver police station.

• The five-story Al Angelo Building, part of a $57 million two-building project just off the freeway exit between Mill Plain and East 15th Street. The building replaced a shuttered Denny’s restaurant and will eventually face a twin structure one block west of the site.

• IQ Credit Union’s $10.5 million headquarters and downtown branch, which opened in 2009 in the city’s refurbished service center.

At least one local developer would like to see a modern makeover of the former City Hall, despite its potential historic value.

“The architectural design does not easily lend itself to a modernized exterior look,” said Craig Angelo, a principal in the Al Angelo company.

Vancouver developed the old City Hall in 1966 on land owned by the school district.

“The city was allowed to build and operate there,” Horenstein said. “But once they stopped using the building, it reverts back to the district.”

Barbara Ayers, Vancouver communications manager, said the city moved 58 employees to the new City Hall at 401 W. Sixth St.

“It’s exciting that the old City Hall went back to the school district and is still in the community’s purview. We did get 44 years of good use out of it.”

Horenstein said the school district will spend the next couple of months studying how best to use the site for district purposes, including possible interim use of the facility or selling the real estate to raise capital to meet the district’s other facilities needs.

“The study results will be forwarded to the superintendent,” Horenstein said.

At that point, Superintendent Steven Webb will forward a recommendation to the school board, Horenstein said.

Some downtown business supporters are already expressing opinions about the options, including Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, a 120-member business association focused on the downtown core.

Rafferty said she likes the idea of the science and technology school, planned to accommodate grades six through 12.

“The idea of students and staff coming and going for classes, the bustle of all ages would be terrific,” she said. “And the building is very close to the new library, which might create another very healthy synergy.”

The $38 million Vancouver Community Library opened in July at C Street and Evergreen Bouelvard, four blocks south of the old City Hall site.