Washougal's downtown growing up

New commercial building filling up, as city leaders eye long-term expansion of core

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Downtown Washougal welcomed a new crop of tenants in the last few weeks at 1887 Main St., a commercial building built this year by one of the city's main developers, Lone Wolf Development.

Several new businesses have started to fill up the 7,500-square-foot, two-story structure. The building is about half-full and still has three retail spaces and one office space to be filled.

One of the new tenants is Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a group that creates and maintains trails in the Gorge while protecting the area's natural resources.

"The Washougal area was becoming a bigger and bigger part of what we do," said executive director Kevin Gorman.

Other newcomers are Body Bliss Yoga Studio and medical billing support company Provider Assistants, which recently moved from Vancouver to Washougal. They join the building's previously lone tenant, glo Beauty Lounge.

The recent activity is a sign of a renewed interest in Washougal's downtown core, said Adam Taylor, spokesman for Lone Wolf.

"For a long time, it wasn't on the map. People didn't think twice about Washougal," Taylor said. "Now companies are choosing it."

That could mean good news for Lone Wolf Development, owned by Washougal resident Wes Hickey, son of the late Ray Hickey, who once owned Vancouver-based shipping company Tidewater Barge Lines.

Since 2006, Lone Wolf has invested more than $16.5 million in projects surrounding the town's centerpiece, Reflection Park, including the $14 million Washougal Town Square.

Washougal's downtown area currently spans about five blocks. With the redevelopment taking place in the next two decades, Mayor Sean Guard said downtown will expand to 32nd Street, growing to 17 blocks.

"We know where we're going … we're looking farther down the road," Guard said. "It's extremely helpful for anyone in the business community to know there's a focused effort."

In a recent citywide survey, about 40 percent of Washougal residents said they were born and raised in the city, whereas previous surveys estimated 70 percent. Guard said the city is poised to accept a diversity of businesses because the city's growing population doesn't slant young or old.

"To have a good, diverse business community, you have to have all those different ages," he said.

He said data from the city's development plans projects Washougal's population will increase from 14,357 to about 25,000 in the next 20 years.

For nearly four months, 1887 Main had just one retail tenant, glo Beauty Lounge. Deborah Kirkendall, owner of glo, is looking forward to having new neighbors. When her shared space in Camas became too small to support her growing clientele, she moved her skin care business to Washougal in May.

"It's been amazing since I've been here," Kirkendall said. "People are very excited that commerce is coming back to downtown Washougal."

Portland-based Friends of the Columbia Gorge has long been interested in expanding its presence in Clark County and establishing a pilot office in Washougal, the city known as Washington's gateway to the Gorge. Gorman said the Washougal office will have one intern and one staff member, Gorge Towns to Trails" project manager Renee Tkach.

Under the "Gorge Towns to Trails" project, a trail system would start at the pedestrian tunnel on Washougal River Road and run about 30 miles east to Stevenson through Beacon Rock State Park, connecting hikers to the area's mountains and lakes. Eventually, the trails would connect to those on the Oregon side via the Bridge of the Gods. The project is somewhat modeled after European trail systems that link urban areas to natural areas.

The office will likely end up being a volunteer hub and event center, Gorman said, where people can meet before a guided hike. He said the downtown Washougal office will attract hikers looking to get a cup of coffee before or after their trek. The group is also looking to host Gorge on Tap at Amnesia Brewery, so people can learn about the Columbia River over beer when the brewery opens across the street from 1887 Main.

Friends already runs a program through the Washougal school district that takes seventh graders into the Gorge to learn about wilderness survival, plant identification and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Body Bliss Yoga Studio moved in at the end of August. About 50 people showed up for free classes at the studio's open house on Saturday. Other Washougal businesses came to the opening event, donating merchandise, coupons and gift cards.

Studio owner Angie Cherry grew up in Washougal and taught yoga at a local gym before she decided to open her own studio.

"I really wanted to offer some specific classes and enrichment programs," Cherry said. She offers everything from yoga for athletes to chair yoga for those with mobility problems to storybook yoga for kids.

"I think it's great timing. It's only going to get better in downtown Washougal," she said.

Provider Assistants moved from Vancouver to Washougal last weekend. The company started out as a medical billing support company and grew to provide communication and technical services.

Joseph Graves, a partner in Provider Assistants, lives just a quarter-mile away from the building. He plans to build a conference room in the center of the office, with floor-to-ceiling whiteboard walls for brainstorming and planning.

Graves talked with Lone Wolf owner Wes Hickey and found they agreed on fostering a sense of community in the downtown area. "It was nice working with a developer who cared as much about the end result as putting people in his building," Grave said.