Life after the CRC's demise

Businesses both welcome, lament project's end, look to future

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The Columbia River Crossing’s spectacular flameout came just in time for Vancouver’s July 4 fireworks extravaganza, when bursts of bright light disappear into the black night sky.

And, as in a fireworks display, the CRC’s disappearance has left the city’s business leaders, economic development officials, property and shop owners wondering: “Is there anything else?”

In this early stage of reflection on the end of a project that consumed more than $170 million and a decade of planning, business leaders are not expecting big transportation improvement anytime soon. The twin towers of the Interstate 5 Bridge are likely to dominate the city skyline far into the future.

“Every individual and business that was waiting for a decision on the new bridge now knows their fate. They should sit back, take a deep breath and plan accordingly to resume their lives,” said Craig Angelo of the Al Angelo Co., a dominant downtown property owner.

Reactions to the project’s demise are deeply divided, just as they were to the massive $3.4 billion bridge and light-rail project itself. Matt Brislawn, owner of a small downtown guitar shop, is relieved that his lower Washington Street building will not be swamped by a light-rail onramp. Other downtown property owners welcome the certainty of the status quo, even if they supported a new bridge and rail transit.

But Lisa Nisenfeld, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, a jobs-promoting nonprofit, believes the failure of the CRC will make it harder to attract jobs. Prospective employers often inquired about the CRC, she said. “The sentence usually goes, ‘They are going to build the bridge aren’t they?’ ” Nisenfeld said.

Todd Coleman, the Port of Vancouver’s executive director, favored the project but now believes the region will find a new path. “I think this community will coalesce around economic development,” he said. “I think you will see people come up with new ideas.”

Below are two stories that offer business perspectives on a post-CRC future.

CRC and Downtown: Merchants can proceed with planning

photoMatt Brislawn, owner of Briz Loan & Guitar shop, was worried that the CRC project's light-rail component would have reduced his store's visibility, so he welcomed its demise.

(/The Columbian)

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Matt Brislawn's guitar shop sits near the entrance to the Interstate 5 Bridge in downtown Vancouver, a location he has worried about through years of public planning to replace the aged crossing and add light rail lines through the heart of the city.

The project's recent cancellation now has Brislawn mapping out his own strategy for the historic building he owns for his business, Briz Loan & Guitar, a pawn shop for instruments. Brislawn, who in February gathered 50 signatures on a letter asking lawmakers to halt the bridge project, says he may now invest in a two-story fresco for a bare exterior wall of his structure at 506 Washington St.

He'd been asked last year to enroll his building in a downtown mural project. But back then, Brislawn wasn't sure his property would be visible next to the planned rise of a freeway ramp for light-rail tracks to enter the new bridge.

"I'm completely relieved that the looming threat is no longer hanging over our business and building," he said.

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CRC and Industry: Failure seen as opportunity lost for county

photoA worker uses a grinder inside Thompson Metal Fab, one of three Vancouver manufacturers that said the proposed bridge's lower height would have had a negative impact on their businesses.

(/The Columbian)

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It's a sun-dappled Tuesday morning, and Thompson Metal Fab's cavernous facilities thrum with the sounds of overhead cranes and computer-programmed saws that cut through steel like butter.

It's music to the ears of John Rudi, president of the Vancouver-based company that rises where the Kaiser Shipyards shaped and launched Liberty vessels during World War II.

Until last weekend, Rudi had hoped that the Columbia River Crossing would keep the music playing with a project right in Clark County's backyard. The massive infrastructure project would have lasted longer than the company's typical 18-month-to-two-year contracts, providing the West Coast's largest metal fabrication plant a stable source of business for as many as five years.

But when the Washington Legislature adjourned June 29, the $3.4 billion Columbia River Crossing was dead, without state funding to supplement dollars from Oregon and the federal government.

"This is not the outcome we wanted," Rudi said.

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