Old Vancouver City Hall building up for sale

After studying options, Vancouver schools puts it on market for $1.85M

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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For sale: Vancouver's former city hall, built in 1964, vacated by city staff in September 2011, and now owned by Vancouver Public Schools.

The $1.85 million listing has prompted immediate speculation about the building's future uses, as well as cautions about the possible need for expensive seismic retrofits. But real estate experts say the five-story building at 210 E. 13th St. has some major advantages in its accessibility -- about one block west of the Mill Plain entrance to Interstate 5 -- visibility and ample parking.

"It has twice the average parking ratio," said Charlie Kleier, a Vancouver broker and listing agent for the building. Built originally to accommodate city customers and staff, the old city hall's underground and upper story parking lots have an average of 3.45 spaces per 1,000 square feet, compared with the typical office building standard of 1.5 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, said Kleier, a principal with NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson's Vancouver office.

The school district will sell the building as surplus property in an effort to raise money for its capital facilities account, said Todd Horenstein, the district's assistant superintendent, who was part of the seven-member committee that analyzed uses for the building. The city returned the 40,000-square-foot structure to the district when Vancouver staff and government offices moved into a newer building at 401 W. Sixth St., formerly occupied by The Columbian. The district owned the property beneath the old city hall before it was built.

The old city hall site encompasses a full city block bounded by East Mill Plain to the north, C Street to the east and Broadway to the west.

"Basically, we were evaluating whether it would be conducive to an educational program or some other purpose," Horenstein said.

Local real estate experts and owners of nearby properties had hoped the school district would convert the vacant building into an innovative new school similar to Evergreen Public Schools' $23.7 million magnet health and bioscience high school, HeLa High School, scheduled to open in fall 2013.

"The group concluded it was better suited for continued office use and not for school use," Horenstein said.

The news was somewhat disappointing to neighboring property owners who had hoped for a pilot school or vocational program to bring academic vibrancy and jobs to an area that is already gaining redevelopment momentum.

"The building is usable and has a very good amount of parking," said Elie Kassab, a Vancouver-based developer and president of Prestige Development. His company plans to break ground in early 2013 on a $16 million apartment project next door to the former city hall building.

Others hinted it could be too costly to change the building's zoning from office use to something else, which would require significant seismic upgrades.

"The one problem with the building were the parking lids, the covers over the parking lots," said Tim Haldeman, facilities director for the City of Vancouver, which performed a seismic evaluation on the building shortly before city staff moved out.

"It's just expensive to fix that piece of it," he said.

But office users likely wouldn't have to make the seismic code upgrades, Kleier said.

"If they were to change it to a hotel or a church or residential property, there probably would be some seismic work," he said.

Kassab speculated the older building could become a suitable headquarters for a financial institution because it is equipped with an underground drive-through window built to conduct city transactions.

"This is a prime location, served by public transit on C Street and also on Mill Plain," he said. "And it's very close to I-5."

Editor's note: The photo caption with this story has been modified to reflect a correct name spelling. Jim Dolle of the firm Nelson/Walla/Dolle and Co. of Vancouver designed the building.