Vancouver City Council breaks in its new chambers

Move into building downtown complete; open house Saturday




The first vote cast by the Vancouver City Council in its new council meeting chambers Monday was a unanimous one — albeit it was to approve meeting minutes from Aug. 15.

But, by the end of the inaugural meeting at the new City Hall downtown, the council had a dissenting vote, heard from concerned citizens and was back to business as usual.

Vancouver is fully moved from five buildings spread out over 10 miles into one building, at 415 W. Sixth St., across from Esther Short Park.

“It will be our new home for the next 50 years, no doubt about it,” Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said as the meeting drew to a close around 9:15 p.m. “We start a new era. What a great overall morale builder and a great next step forward.”

Just hours before the meeting was set to start, staff scrambled to unpack chairs and finish final details, while a group of neighborhood association leaders also got a grand preview tour. The official dedication and open house for the public will be Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.

Vancouver purchased the six-story, 118,000-square-foot building from Bank of America in June 2010 for $18.5 million, more than half off the estimated $40 million construction cost. The building was built by Downtown Vitality Partners, a group that includes Columbian Publisher Scott Campbell, but was forfeited in early 2010 as part of a bankruptcy settlement. The Columbian had no stake in the sale to the city.

The city bought The Columbian’s former leased office furniture for $200,000, about 11 cents on the dollar of the original price tag. It signed a $1.77 million contract with a Ridgefield-based construction firm to make some modifications to the building to suit city use and also to turn an unfinished first floor area that still had gravel floors into the city’s permitting center.

Big savings

The neighborhood leaders wound their way through thefirst four floors of the building, which are occupied by city staff. The city leases the top two floors as private office space.

General Services Director Tim Haldeman pointed out touches that helped the building reach its environmental LEED gold certification, including heated indoor bike parking and motion sensitive lighting. Etched glass on each floor details the history of the city and Clark County and views of the Columbia River or Esther Short Park were available from all sides.

“This is probably something we would never have been able to afford to build,” Haldeman told the neighborhood association members, from First Place, Esther Short Park and Bella Vista.

Instead, the move is expected to save the city $1 million in leasing costs as it consolidates into one location.

“The interaction for all the different staff has been a new cultural thing,” said Haldeman, standing in one of the building’s communal kitchen and break areas. “People are making friends.”

Bella Vista President Bob Rowe said the city was lucky to have scored its new digs.

“Just the consolidation is a good thing for the city, people can talk face to face,” Rowe said. “They’ll save $1 million by consolidating and it’s a LEED-certified building, which is a good role for the city to play.”

At the city council meeting, everything went off without a hitch. Among the changes: citizen and staff speakers are seated at a table facing the city council, rather than standing at a podium, which mirrors how the Clark County commissioners hold their meetings.

The council debated and approved extending their moratorium on allowing communal medical marijuana gardens and also extending their multifamily housing property tax breaks to include the Fourth Plain Boulevard area. (The latter drew the dissenting vote, from Councilor Jeanne Stewart).

Leavitt read a proclamation declaring Saturday “New City Hall Day” and Paula Person, president of the Esther Short Park Neighborhood Association, of which City Hall is now a member, presented a welcome gift.

“I’m very impressed,” she said, noting it was 244 steps from her door to the door of City Hall. “I’m happy you’re here. I’m sure you’ll be good neighbors.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or or or