Patience paying off for C-W port

Director has carefully shepherded several major projects to completion over several years

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 

Laying the groundwork for eventual private-sector growth and public-sector amenities often comes in small steps, not big strides. In local government and economic development, public input and patience matter. David Ripp, executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal, will tell you about it.

Since taking the port's helm in 2008, the 46-year-old Ripp — whose professional experience includes serving as executive director of the Port of Woodland for 13 years and as a branch manager for Norwest Financial — has methodically shepherded several high-profile projects to completion.

In April, for example, the port announced that longtime port tenant Foods In Season, a gourmet fresh food supplier, had signed on to relocate to the 120-acre Steigerwald Commerce Center's first building, a new distribution center. The company expects to add 10 new jobs as a result of its expansion.

That announcement came eight months after the port had broken ground in August 2012 on installing infrastructure to open a portion of the Steigerwald site — Clark County's largest new, market-ready industrial development. The recent activity at Steigerwald marked the culmination of years of planning and design work. Eventually, the property could support between 300 and 400 jobs.

Meanwhile, the port is collecting public input on revitalizing a waterfront property, including new recreational facilities, environmental cleanup, and trail design and concepts. The ongoing public-input process comes after the port's purchase in November 2012 of about 13 acres of the 26-acre former Hambleton Lumber Co. site from Killian Pacific, a Vancouver-based commercial real estate development and investment company.

That $6 million acquisition adds to the 14 acres the port already owns immediately east of the former lumber mill site. Killian Pacific retains the other 13-acre half of the former mill parcel. The company and the port plan to redevelop the entire 40-acre waterfront site into a place to work, play and do business. 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.

In taking its next steps, the port is asking the public to fill out a survey about the future of the waterfront parcel. What's more, the port will convene a second open house — beginning at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, at its office in Washougal, 24 S. A St. — to gather more public feedback and to provide an update about plans for the waterfront site.

It's an incremental process that reminds Ripp, who supervises 13 full-time staffers and one part-time employee, of port Commissioner Mark Lampton's comparison of the port's work to growing an asparagus crop.

"When you plant that asparagus, you're not eating it the next year," said Ripp, recalling what Lampton said. "It's two years down the road, and so everything we did two years ago is now coming to fruition, and everything we're doing right now will be coming to fruition in two years."

• • •

Ripp recently sat down with The Columbian to discuss a wide range of issues: the port’s development of the 120-acre Steigerwald Commerce Center; its plans to rejuvenate waterfront property; slated improvements to the port’s marina; and a combined promotional effort by the port, and the cities of Camas and Washougal.

His comments are edited for brevity and clarity.

What can you tell us about the port’s work on Steigerwald Commerce Center and what it means for economic development?

I came on board in 2008, and the commission and staff at that time were looking at potentially rezoning that property into more of a commercial setting. Two years ago, we started moving forward with the design and the vision (for) the property. We got a call from the state looking for potential ready-to-go projects. So I had thrown this project in the hat for some industrial development dollars to help with the construction of this facility. That million-and-a-half (in state funding) kick-started the project. We have a lot of flexibility in the development of that property. We have the ability to lease a two-acre parcel or we can have 10 or 20 or even a 40-acre parcel.

The port has embarked on a plan to revitalize waterfront property, including new recreational facilities, environmental cleanup, and trail design and concepts.

What can you tell us about that plan and what we can expect from it?

One of the goals was to have a waterfront trail along the Columbia River (that) we would tie (into) Marina Park, and eventually have a trail that ties (into) our levee system. When we did this whole strategic plan; Hambleton (Lumber Co.) was still there. We just thought sometime in the future we’re going to look at trying to purchase a portion of that property.

A couple months down the road (in summer 2010), the mill shuts down. We knew at the time, we couldn’t afford to purchase that whole 26-acre parcel. Our thought process was (that) if we can apply (for a planning grant to study cleanup and redevelopment of the site), maybe this due diligence we’re going to complete will open some developer’s eyes. (Developer Killian Pacific) came to the port and said, “We know what your goals are and what you want to do. Would you like to buy half the property?’ (Killian Pacific) got the more developable property, but we got control of the waterfront. We have what’s called a port management agreement, which is an aquatic lease with the state, and we’re going to expand that to this portion of the property. In the future, if we want to expand the marina, we’ll have that ability. We’re taking taxpayer dollars and doing something taxpayers want to see and will be able to utilize.

What’s the vision for the commercial redevelopment of the waterfront property?

We know what we’ve heard from the public: “We don’t want to see this big box.” But if it was a New Seasons (or a) Trader Joe’s, something like that, people would be excited about that. If you look at what (Killian Pacific) did (with the Grand Central retail development in Vancouver), that’s how that will be here. And then the waterfront trail will look very similar to what you see at (Beaches Restaurant & Bar and McMenamins on the Columbia in Vancouver). We’re not trying to take away from downtown Washougal or Camas. I don’t feel that our product will compete with their product.

The port helps fund the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association. Are you happy with that organization’s work?

Totally happy. The port contributes $100,000 a year and both cities (Camas and Washougal) kick in $50,000. Paul Dennis (president and CEO of CWEDA) has done a great job of helping companies with expansion on permit issues or trying to help them through the funding guidelines of (the state Department of Revenue) or even with (state Department of Ecology) issues. The other big thing we’re working on right now is a promotional video to market Camas, Washougal and the port. Both mayors (Washougal’s Sean Guard and Camas’ Scott Higgins) will be talking about the schools, the community, the recreational opportunities. Then the port (will discuss) what we offer economic development-wise, and industrial properties in Washougal and Camas.

The port is poised to launch improvements to its marina. What can you tell us about that?

The major portion of the in-water work is going to be replacing the existing wood pilings with steel. What we’re also doing is replacing our headwalks, and headwalks are the main docks that you walk down to and walk on to get to the different (boat) slips. What kick-started all of this is our (H-Dock) replacement. It was getting dilapidated. We looked at our waiting list, which we had a high number of sailboats. Sailboats are typically in (the 30- to 45-foot range). (The H-Dock replacement project) is going to house 35 footers, and sailboats tend to stay year-round. We have a local company, Wolseley (Industrial Group) building all of our docks.

What’s the port’s biggest challenge in the months and years ahead?

Being able to pay for everything we want to do. We’ve been very fortunate to be successful in getting some grant dollars through (the state Community Economic Revitalization Board) , and I think the state likes to see this, because we kick in a good portion of money.

What’s the best part of managing the port?

Working with my staff. It’s fun. We work hard, but we have fun. We joke around, but at the end of the day, we get a lot of things done. I’m only as good as my staff. This is a team.

I look to them for guidance and support and, at the end of the day, I have to make decisions based on the information I have, so they’re a great resource.

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