Plans for extending Columbia Way have drawn criticism for a lack of dedicated bike lanes, but an even bigger decision is needed before the primary east-west route to Vancouver's $1.3 billion waterfront development can be built.
The Centennial Center, part of the 1962-built Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, stands in the way of the city's preferred route for Columbia Way. Unless the banquet hall building is demolished, said Chad Eiken, Vancouver's director of community and economic development, Columbia Way would have to curve north before turning south toward the development. Planners want a straight street.
If the city can't build Columbia Way straight, Eiken said, it will go ahead and build a temporary, curving Columbia Way. All signs suggest the 5,000-square-foot building will eventually be demolished, although nobody involved in the discussions will confirm that.
The Port of Vancouver owns the three-parcel site that houses the Red Lion at the Quay, its parking lot and adjacent Centennial Center.
All three parcels were listed as a "permanent full acquisition" in Columbia River Crossing plans, meaning the entire site would have been needed to build the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement. The Quay was to be among hundreds of properties that would have been impacted by the project.
The new bridge would have curved downstream of the existing drawbridges carrying I-5 over the Columbia River, sending the freeway directly over part of the Quay site.
The death of the CRC, then, forced the city and private developers behind the waterfront project to deal with access issues and their impact on the Centennial Center.
Eiken said last week that the city is working with the port, but a nondisclosure agreement prohibited it from disclosing details. Theresa Wagner, port spokeswoman, said the port supports the city's plans for Columbia Way and has been working with Red Lion Hotels Corp., which operates the Quay and the Centennial Center through a lease agreement with the port that runs until 2033.
"There's no final decision at this point," Wagner said, adding that Red Lion officials "are very open" to what makes the most sense for the city.
Pam Scott, spokeswoman for the Spokane-based Red Lion, echoed support for the city's vision. She said that even if the 5,000-square-foot Centennial Center was demolished, the hotel would still have approximately 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
The plans for the waterfront development are exciting, Scott said.
Time pressure to start
City Manager Eric Holmes told the Vancouver City Council on June 16 that the bid for Columbia Way should go out this summer and construction needs to start by early fall.
Eiken said the ground needs to be as dry as possible to install deep utility lines. Considering the right-of-way's location next to the Columbia River, construction would have to wait until next June if it isn't started by early this fall, he said.
Barry Cain, president of Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development Inc., who is leading an investment group on redeveloping the 30-acre former Boise Cascade mill site into a mixed-use residential and commercial district, said he hopes the issue will be quickly resolved.
"We definitely want to keep the project on schedule. It's very important to us. The port has stated that the Centennial Center issue won't hold things up. We're certainly counting on that," Cain wrote in an email.
The city's portion of Columbia Way, which will branch west off Columbia Street, will cost between $5.8 million and $6.2 million, Eiken said. Current plans call for a 70-foot-wide street that includes 12-feet-wide sidewalks, one lane in each direction, on-street parking and markings for shared bicycle lanes. Criticism from bicycle advocates has prompted the city to reconsider the design, Holmes told the city council on June 16, but no changes have been announced.
The extension of Columbia Way is part of the city's $45 million access project, which includes two new railroad bridges at Esther and Grant streets, the extension of Esther and Grant streets, the closure of railroad crossings at Jefferson and Eighth streets and related utility work.