Retail development at former airport site starts seeking tenants

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Owners of Vancouver’s former Evergreen Airport say the search is on for retail tenants for the site now that streets have replaced the landmark grassy runway and tumble-down buildings.

The owners, B52 Point of Evergreen LLC, have hired a sales team to market space in the stalled 59-acre shopping development, said Matt Harrell, a representative of the Vancouver-based LLC.

With the local retail sector struggling as unemployment remains high, Harrell said it could take a while to attract the initial anchors. He added that the development could look much different from the original plan for an upscale “lifestyle center” with anchor stores Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble.

The faltering economy caused those tenants to back out in July 2007 as the site’s original developer, Seattle-based Opus Northwest, abandoned its plans to build the $215 million shopping complex. Plans also were scrapped to build 135 housing units at the corner of Northeast Fourth Street and 136th Avenue.

Portland-based ELD Development took over the project in 2008. The property sold for $10.4 million the following year to B52 Point of Evergreen, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Hawthorn Retirement Group. The private, family-owned business operates a string of more than 40 senior living facilities in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. The company is also affiliated with Chuck’s Produce and Street Market.

The developers have hired Portland-based Commercial Realty Advisors to actively market The Landing site, which is vacant except for its wide new streets, sidewalks and curbs.

“We felt building the roads created vision for the project,” Harrell said.

Harrell would not give a wish list of possible anchor-store tenants. He expects stores that come forward to dictate the center’s design as well.

“The anchors have to come to the party, and we don’t know who they are yet,” Harrell said.

Local retail property specialists agree that signing up tenants could take some time, as few national retailers are in the expansion mode now.

“I’m not aware of anybody actively looking. They’ll just start making the contacts anyway,” said Deborah Ewing, a broker and realtor with Eric Fuller & Associates Inc.

“It could take five years, but starting now makes sense,” Ewing said.

In the meantime, B52 Point of Evergreen has finished extending three streets through the site. Southeast First and Fourth streets now extend east from 136th toward Hearthwood, and Olympia Drive extends north from Mill Plain Boulevard.

Harrell wouldn’t say how much money his company has invested so far in the site.

The city of Vancouver also expects to finish work this month on a $2 million project to widen 136th Avenue at Mill Plain to accommodate the area’s growing traffic.

“That development (The Landing) is not the only reason for the project” to widen the Mill Plain intersection, one of the city’s busiest, said Ryan Miles, a senior civil engineer with the city’s public works department.

Harrell said he isn’t sure when his company will break ground on the tract.

“We’re going to know a lot more in six weeks to six months,” he said.

Evergreen Airport closed in July 2006 to make way for The Landing, proposed as a master-planned development of retail, housing and office space. The airport’s founder and longtime owner, Wally Olson, operated the airstrip and its flight school from 1945 until his death at 86 in 1997.

Once surrounded by vacant fields and the occasional barn, the airport tract is now encircled by subdivisions, apartments, offices and stores.