A $32 million urban apartment development that is one of the largest downtown projects in recent history is being planned on a mostly idle city block in Vancouver’s Uptown Village.
A portion of the site is now the temporary home of Dulin’s Village Cafe and was once the home of The Holland Restaurant.
Called The Uptown, the six-story building is developer David Copenhaver’s contribution to an ongoing national trend that has suburban dwellers drawn to once-neglected downtown areas. It will feature 166 apartment units, 150 underground parking spaces, ground-floor retail space facing Main Street and on Washington Street, street-level apartments with brownstone-type walk-ups. A central courtyard is designed to bring natural light in on every floor and a rooftop terrace will offer “stunning” views of downtown and its surroundings, Copenhaver told a downtown business crowd of about 60 people on Thursday.
His presentation to downtown booster group Vancouver’s Downtown Association at the Hilton Vancouver Washington was part of the theme of the group’s quarterly meeting, which focused on new residential development. Projects, such as The Uptown and the 96-unit Prestige Plaza that was also discussed at the meeting, create more downtown business by bringing a mass of residents into the sector, said Lee Rafferty, the group’s executive director.
“We need to have that 24-7 demand on our restaurants and shops,” Rafferty said.
Copenhaver said he believes there is plenty of demand for his proposal, despite the fact that it will open on the heels of Prestige Plaza, nearing completion at the corner of Mill Plain Boulevard and C Street. Copenhaver anticipates his project’s construction will begin next spring and open in spring 2015. Its one- and two-bedroom units will rent for between $1,000 and $1,500 per month.
Prestige Plaza and The Uptown both are located within blocks of the entrance to Interstate 5. The developments come at a time when a growing number of baby boomers are swapping suburban homes and big yards for downtown living. The projects are also timed to an era when young professionals are on the hunt for urban living areas within walking distance of offices, shops, cafes and amenities and also served by alternative transportation. Both apartment projects are along the proposed light-rail line that would be part of the much-debated Columbia River Crossing project.
‘Invest in Vancouver’
Copenhaver is a former vice president with Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development who formed his own company called Acorn Acquisitions. He said the company is backed by private equity groups from outside the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area that envision a long-term investment return for his downtown project.
“There are a lot of reasons people would want to invest in Vancouver,” Copenhaver said.
Among them, a growing demand for rental units in up-and-coming urban areas, such as the site of his project, which has not yet been submitted to the city for formal development review. In addition to its proximity to the light-rail route, the site is on the southern edge of Uptown Village’s eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. It is bordered on the east and west sides by Main and Washington streets and on the north and south by West McLoughlin Boulevard and 17th Street. The property is owned by Holland Inc., the Vancouver company that owns and operates the Burgerville restaurant chain.
“We knew the whole block needed to be redone,” said Tom Mears, Holland Inc. board chairman. He added that Burgerville does not have plans to develop a restaurant in the project’s retail space to replace the longtime downtown walk-up it closed in 2011.
Mears last year asked Dulin’s Village Cafe to move out of its space at 1708 Main St., and said he was looking at options for redeveloping the block that gave birth to his company’s restaurant chain. Jacob Propstra, the father of Burgerville founder, the late George Propstra, founded the Holland Creamery on the site in the early 1920s.
“Then George went to work for his dad and the rest is history,” said Mears, who married George Propstra’s daughter and purchased his father-in-law’s restaurant company nearly 20 years ago.
Mears does not intend to participate in developing the apartment project and instead, expects to sell the site to Copenhaver, whom he brought in initially to take a look at redeveloping the site’s existing buildings. The one-story commercial spaces are mainly vacant, having once housed a liquor store and a travel business called Kop’s Travel. Dulin’s is still operating from its space at the corner of Main and McLoughlin. Its owner, Pat Dulin, announced in July he was making plans to move into the former Pop Culture site at 1929 Main St.
Start from scratch
The best way to redevelop Holland Inc.’s site was to tear down the buildings and start from scratch, said Copenhaver, a local developer who is best known in Clark County for his work with Gramor on a series of Clark County retail projects. They include the Burgerville-anchored Center Square in Salmon Creek, the Safeway-anchored Heritage Market Center at Fourth Plain Boulevard and Northeast 162nd Avenue and the Mill Plain Town Center with a Target store at Southeast 164th Avenue.
But Copenhaver has tackled more than just retail projects as part of the development team at Gramor.
The company was heavily involved a decade ago in Lake Oswego, Ore.’s downtown redevelopment, helping transform the Portland suburb’s aging shopping district with upscale projects that included Lake View Village, a $30 million complex of shops, restaurants and offices. Nearby, Gramor’s A Street Station attracted a mix of commercial, retail and restaurant tenants fronting 38 townhouse units. Lake Oswego officials praised the projects for spurring additional development and nearly quadrupling property tax revenue in the downtown district.
“When I was at Gramor, it was a team effort,” said Copenhaver, a Ridgefield resident who now prefers to fly solo. He is working with Vancouver-based LSW Architects on The Uptown project’s design.
Copenhaver would not disclose the names of his project investors other than to say they are located out of the area.
He sees his project, proposed for the third block north of West 15th Street and Mill Plain, as one that can help bridge the divide between Vancouver’s downtown city center and Uptown Village.
“I think it will anchor the south end of Uptown Village,” he said.
The project’s height could also help connect downtown’s taller buildings to Uptown Village, a traditional streetcar-era commercial district, said Michele Reeves, of Portland-based Civilis Consultants.
“Right now it goes from Uptown into a section of auto-accommodating development” situated along the traffic-heavy 15th Street and Mill Plain corridor, which feeds I-5.
But Reeves, who has served as an economic development consultant to Vancouver’s Downtown Association, sees the higher density, proposed six-story development as a project that also will relate to street-level shops in the Uptown area.
“Once you get above six stories, you’re not really interacting with the street anymore,” she said.
Reeves also expects units in The Uptown and Prestige Plaza to be in high demand, especially from 20- and 30-somethings who are not interested in what Reeves called “an auto-centric lifestyle” that relies on car ownership.
“Generation Y has zero interest in sitting in their cars to go a long way,” said Reeves, who has encouraged downtown boosters to increase the area’s residential space to enliven the city center and spur additional redevelopment.
“The more people you get in a place, the better it does economically,” she said.