Buyers found for former city hall building

Vancouver schools set to sell it to pair of local businessmen

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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After receiving multiple offers, Vancouver Public Schools is prepared to sell the former Vancouver City Hall — the downtown's largest vacant building — to two prominent businessmen.

William Firstenburg and brother Bruce Firstenburg, members of the family that owned the former First Independent Bank, are in contract to buy the five-story office building under the corporate name Northwest Property Resources LLC. It's been listed for sale since November at an asking price of $1.85 million.

Although the building housed City Hall, it's owned by Vancouver Public Schools. The district expects the transaction will be complete by late March or early April, said Todd Horenstein, the district's assistant superintendent.

"We're hoping it's a fairly quick process," he said.

Five offers were submitted to buy the building, according to Horenstein, who would not comment on the prospective buyers' plans for the site.

The former city hall building was developed in 1964. When the city moved out in September 2011, the building's ownership reverted back to the school district. The new city hall is located at 401 W. Sixth St. in a building formerly occupied by The Columbian.

The old city hall encompasses a full city block bounded by East Mill Plain to the north, C Street to the east and Broadway to the west at 210 E. 13th St.

Real estate investors find the site desirable for its location near I-5 and for on-site parking built into the structure for about 100 vehicles, said Elie Kassab, a Vancouver-based developer and president of Prestige Development. Kassab's company recently broke ground on Prestige Plaza, a $16 million urban apartment complex going up one block east of the site.

Kassab expects the former city hall building's new owners will try to recruit office users to lease the 40,000-square-foot structure.

"It would be perfect for a company with 75 to 100 employees," he said, noting that a new employer in the area could boost occupancy in his residential project.

School officials at one time considered, then rejected the notion of converting the former city hall offices into an educational facility for one of the district's K-12 programs.

After evaluating the building, the district determined it was not needed for an educational facility, Horenstein said.

"We also noted that it would be a significant change that would require significant improvements," he said. "and that was not something we wanted to put resources into."

Proceeds from selling the former city hall, considered a surplus property by the district, will be deposited into the district's capital facilities account, Horenstein said.