Port of Camas-Washougal aims to transform former lumber site

Plan would redevelop former lumber mill property into business, recreational hub

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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After agreeing to purchase a portion of a former lumber mill site this week, the Port of Camas-Washougal is poised to play a significant role in transforming roughly 40 acres of waterfront property into a bustling hub for businesses and outdoor enthusiasts.

The port’s three-member Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved the acquisition of about half of the 26-acre former Hambleton Lumber Co. site. The parcel is located on the Columbia River near the border of the cities of Camas and Washougal.

The port’s $6 million purchase of 13.25 acres of the former lumber mill site is a key part of a larger deal that’s still in the works. Under that deal, the port will team up with Killian Pacific — the Vancouver-based commercial real estate development and investment company — to breathe new life into a total of 40 acres of waterfront property. The redevelopment project could include new restaurants, boutique shops and offices surrounding an anchor tenant. Plans also call for public access to the waterfront, including an extensive trail.

David Ripp, the port’s executive director, said the deal reflects the port’s strategic plan — built on public input — to maintain public access to the waterfront and establish recreational activities as part of any redevelopment project.

“We’re able to open up and allow public access to the waterfront … but also bring in business that will benefit the community,” Ripp said.

‘The right balance’

Under the purchase and sale agreement, the port is using bond financing to buy about 13 acres of the 26-acre former lumber mill site from Killian Pacific. The closing date of the sale is effective Nov. 16.

The port’s purchase adds to the 14 acres it already owns immediately east of the former lumber mill site, putting a total of roughly 27 acres under port ownership.

Meanwhile, Killian Pacific will retain the other 13-acre half of the former mill parcel. And under a deal both parties are still hammering out, they’ll join forces to redevelop the entire 40-acre site into a place to work, play and do business.

“We want to have a uniform-looking development,” Ripp said.

Killian Pacific hasn’t disclosed its plans for the property. In a news release issued by the port Wednesday, Lance Killian, president of Killian Pacific, said the company looks forward to “finding the right balance between market and community needs and contributing to enhancing the community through the development of this property.”

In forging a deal, the port and Killian-Pacific will join other backers of waterfront rejuvenation projects nationwide who are remaking former industrial centers that straddled waterways — dubbed brownfields if heavily polluted — into focal points of mixed-use development and public amenities.

A study prepared this summer for the NAIOP — the Commercial Real Estate Development Association — estimated there are some 500,000 properties with more than 15 million acres in the U.S. where crews have removed on-site environmental contamination to prepare the parcels for redevelopment projects.

“The decline in industrial use has led to the opening up of waterfronts for increased residential, recreational and commercial use,” according to the study, “The Complexity of Urban Waterfront Redevelopment.” It went on: “In an era when traditional suburban development has become difficult due to transportation costs, environmental concerns and market shifts, in-city waterfront brownfields have often shown themselves to be significant opportunities.”

Partners in place

To be sure, the former lumber mill parcel that’s part of the port’s and Killian Pacific’s overall redevelopment plans is not a designated brownfield site.

However, the former mill site is contaminated by fuel, fuel oil and hydraulic fuels — remnants of its industrial past. Ripp said investigations show the site’s contamination isn’t as bad or extensive as officials once thought, which bodes well for its future redevelopment.

The port’s plans for the overall 40-acre area, including the former lumber mill parcel, intensified in July 2011 when the port announced it had secured a $200,000 grant from the Washington Department of Ecology to examine the site’s environmental contamination and to prepare for its eventual redevelopment.

With their property ownership stakes planted, Ripp said, the port and Killian Pacific are now working with the city of Washougal on a 15- to 20-year development agreement that will spell out how they’ll handle traffic impacts and other issues involved in rebuilding the site.

“It helps you in your planning and budgeting so that you’re not caught off guard,” Ripp said of the long-term development agreement.

Details of who will pay for what haven’t been worked out yet. And it’s unclear when ground will be broken. But Ripp said the port is financially “very sound” and ready to work with Killian Pacific and other partners to move things forward.


Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.