Washington Federal to relocate Mill Plain branch

New site near former Evergreen Airport site will have drive-through lanes

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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The largest Washington-based bank is poised to relocate its only Clark County branch and add drive-through services at the same time it continues to expand its presence in the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle-based Washington Federal has submitted plans to build a $1.3 million branch with two drive-through banking lanes across the street from the former Evergreen Airport at 13909 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd. Crews recently demolished a brick home that had stood there. It was the former home of Wally Olson, the airport's founder and longtime owner who operated the airstrip and its flight school from 1945 until his death in 1997.

Construction on the bank branch at Mill Plain and Southeast 139th Avenue could begin at any time, said Cathy Cooper, a spokeswoman for Washington Federal. The bank purchased the property for $600,000 from Olson's family.

"We are currently waiting on permits so we can begin," Cooper said.

The new branch will replace Washington Federal's only Vancouver location, about a block west of the new site at 13411 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd. in the Columbia Square shopping center. Unlike its current location, where drive-through banking could not be added, the new site can be developed to accommodate the service, said Deborah Ewing, a vice president and retail real estate broker with Vancouver-based Eric Fuller & Associates Inc. She said traffic revisions at Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard and 139th will improve circulation through the bank's new site.

"They will have full turn movements off that intersection," Ewing said.

The intersection also will serve commercial development that occurs on the former airport site, where a 99-room Hampton Inn and Suites hotel is under construction. Ewing expects other retail projects will soon follow the hotel on the 59-acre tract, purchased for $10.4 million in 2011 by Vancouver-based B52 Point of Evergreen.

Ewing, who markets Columbia Square for its multiple owners, said she expects high demand for space at the former airport site, similar to Columbia Square, which has been a magnet for retailers. That's because the two commercial tracts flank the busy intersection of Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard and 136th Avenue. And the intersection is about halfway between the busy north-south routes of Interstate 205 and Southeast 164th Avenue.

Cooper said the improved access planned for Washington Federal's new branch fits in with its customer service upgrades. Once a bank thrift that primarily specialized in home mortgages and savings accounts, Washington Federal this year converted to a national bank charter and received federal approval to become a bank holding company.

In November 2012, Washington Federal acquired Oregon-based South Valley Bancorp Inc., adding roughly $514 million in loans and $743 million in deposits to Washington Federal's financials and expanding the bank's presence to eight states. In July, Washington Federal agreed to buy 51 Bank of America branches, including 19 in Eastern Washington.

The deal, set to close in the fourth quarter, is expected to increase Washington Federal's assets to about $15 billion.