In Our View: Targeting Private Sector

Vancouver school district is correct in selling old city hall building




Four potential winners could emerge from Vancouver Public Schools’ decision to sell the old city hall building in the northeast portion of downtown Vancouver: taxpayers, the school district, businesses in the northeast area of downtown Vancouver and residents in the Arnada, Hough and Esther Short neighborhoods.

As Cami Joner reported in Tuesday’s Columbian, the school district has decided to sell the old city hall building that was occupied for 45 years by Vancouver city employees. List price is $1.85 million. (The school district owns the property, and the building was turned over to the district by the city according to terms of the lease.) Among the possible beneficiaries of this decision are:

The public — Significant tax revenue will be gained from this property as it is turned over to the private sector, and that’s good news for local taxpayers. It’s great to have crowds flocking to public buildings such as the $38 million, 11/2-year-old Vancouver Community Library just three blocks to the south. But as we editorialized 13 months ago: “Governments are well-represented in many buildings downtown, and the revitalization of the area could use a good injection of private-sector people working in buildings that produce property tax revenue.”

Several attractive features of this property should entice potential buyers. Although listed at an address of 210 E. 13th St., the parcel could also be promoted as the corner of Mill Plain Boulevard and Broadway Street, perched conveniently on one of the city’s major east-west corridors, only about three blocks west of busy Interstate 5. The five-story, 40,000-square-foot building boasts 3.45 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, more than twice the average parking ratio of downtown properties.

Vancouver Public Schools — When and whether the district receives the full asking price remains to be seen. But $1.85 million would certainly help remedy the district’s financial woes. In last year’s editorial, we described budget burdens faced by all local school districts, evidenced by the fact that 26 of 32 school board races at the time were unopposed. Few aspiring public servants, we supposed, wanted to wrestle with the schools’ agonizing budget deficits.

This one-time windfall won’t immediately make things better for Vancouver Public Schools, but money from the sale of the property will be well-received in the district’s capital facilities account.

Nearby businesses — Moving this 46-year-old building into the private sector fits well with what is occurring or is planned on adjacent or nearby blocks. About $85 million in revitalization projects includes the five-story Al Angelo Building, the 2-year-old iQ Credit Union headquarters building, and the Prestige Plaza apartment project, where ground-breaking is planned for early next year.

This provides balance for the overall downtown revitalization plan. In the southwest corner of the area, the Vancouver waterfront redevelopment continues to show progress, and these projects in the northeast corner of downtown will strengthen the pattern of change.

Neighborhoods — Nearby residents gain no benefit from empty buildings or vacant properties in the area. Older parts of the city can show meaningful increases in property values as more businesses choose to take advantage of the old city hall’s convenient location.

The school district’s seven-member, property-analysis committee made the right call. If an economic recovery ever kicks in, the wisdom of the decision will be magnified.