In Our View: Progress Downtown

Conversion of old city hall continues; private-sector benefits will emerge

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Abundant attention has been understandably directed to the southwest corner of downtown Vancouver as the heart of our community has been revitalized in the past decade or so. That corner features the beautiful and vibrant "town square" — Esther Short Park — and close by will be the redeveloped waterfront area.

But look also at what's happening at the opposite corner of downtown, about a dozen blocks away. Slowly, the northeast corner is becoming quite the place to live and work.

As Cami Joner reported Monday on columbian.com, the latest entry in this redevelopment boom is the old Vancouver city hall, which is being transformed into a four-story office complex with the latest technology and a new urban green space. The block is bounded by Mill Plain Boulevard, C Street, Broadway and 13th Street, and businesses could be leasing offices early next year.

That's great news for the block that's been vacant for the past few years since Vancouver moved its city offices to a new building at 6th and Esther streets.

Northwest Property Resources LLC purchased the 46-year-old building in April for $2 million and is spending an undisclosed amount on major renovations to the building including upgraded ceilings, new restrooms, a new heating and cooling system, and extensive improvements in technology. All of it will increase the site's appeal to the new wave of Web- and tech-savvy businesses, a movement powered by the slow-but-steady economic recovery.

Those same companies also will be drawn to other features of the property such as easy access to Interstate 5 and the new main public library, each just a few blocks away.

This gradual transformation from city hall (where municipal employees worked for 45 years) to modern office building benefits at least four stakeholders.

First would be taxpayers, who will see property-tax revenue increase as the site converts from public- to private-sector use.

Second is the Vancouver school district, which owned the building that was leased to the city. Vancouver Public Schools officials decided not to use the building and took a nice profit from its sale.

Third are the businesses in the area that continue to see the real fruits of revitalization. Nearby in recent years, more than $85 million in projects has been taking shape, including the Al Angelo Building, the iQ Credit Union headquarters and the Prestige Plaza apartments project, where construction is proceeding at a brisk pace. More activity just naturally means more customers for other downtown businesses, too.

And fourth are the residents of surrounding neighborhoods such as Arnada, Hough and Esther Short. Increased business activity could mean increased property values, which could accelerate even more as the economic recovery gains steam.

This is precisely how an old downtown should recover, with a powerful blend of public- and private-sector projects. And if the southwest and northeast corners of downtown Vancouver wind up arguing over who's the top dog, that'll be great for everyone involved.