Old city hall taking on a new look

$5M makeover in progress; tenants possible by 2Q

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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A building that has stood along East Mill Plain Boulevard for nearly a half century is being made new again, slowly but surely.

The $5 million makeover of Vancouver's former city hall building is back on track after a three- or four-week delay caused by additional asbestos removal, said Gary Ehrig, a senior vice president of Northwest Property Resources LLC. The company has owned the property since April. In July, construction workers started to remove asbestos and open up the building's four upper stories and basement level.

"We had some unknown asbestos within the concrete masonry walls," Ehrig said. It required more care in removing 12 vertical concrete panels from the building's exterior. The work made way for a new glass-front facade.

Plans also call for a good sprucing up of the site, a full city block bordered by Mill Plain, Broadway, and 13th and C streets. Ehrig said marketing efforts have already drawn leasing interest from creative-type office users. Several tech, financial, engineering, architecture and medical firms have made inquiries.

The building has been renamed "Block 56." The naming fits a hip real estate trend used in high-demand office markets, such as Portland's Pearl District.

"It's the legal description of the site," Ehrig said. "We're trying to bring more creative office space onto the market" in downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver-based Northwest Property Resources LLC is owned by the Firstenburg family, which in 2012 sold its longtime company, First Independent Bank, to Sterling Bank.

Bank tenant expected

Ehrig expects a commercial banking tenant to take up space in the street-level floor of Block 56, which came equipped with a drive-through window that was once used for city business. The drive-through can be repurposed to accommodate a bank branch in the 1960s-era structure, which also comes with two levels of parking for more than 124 vehicles.

Updates to the building also will include adding restrooms, a new heating and cooling system and extensive technology upgrades.

In addition to its on-site parking, the building's location is also considered desirable because it is in the second block west of Interstate 5's exit onto Mill Plain Boulevard.

The site is being marketed by Tom Shimota, an office specialist with Jones Lang LaSalle in Portland.

Ehrig expects work to begin this month on the building's glass facade and finish up in mid-January. Space could be ready for tenant improvements to begin in February, and the first office tenants could move in some time in the second quarter of 2014.

The project was designed by Portland-based GBD Architects and is being overseen by Robertson & Olson Construction Inc. of Vancouver.