Port of Vancouver decision affects Subaru, rail expansion

Authority to acquire land from tenant granted to staff

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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Port of Vancouver commissioners unanimously made a decision Tuesday that holds the promise of keeping a port tenant satisfied and helps the port prepare for more railroad expansion.

But one commissioner on the three-member board expressed concern about the resolution's wording. The sticking point was granting the authority to acquire land when port staff only needed permission to start the negotiations, said Commissioner Jerry Oliver, who ultimately supported the deal, along with fellow commissioners Brian Wolfe and Nancy Baker.

The port wants to acquire 10 acres of a 40-acre tract it now leases to Subaru of America to be used as right of way for the port's $275 million rail access project, called the West Vancouver Freight Access project. The port's interest in that land coincides with Subaru's desire to construct a 15,500-square-foot building to enlarge its own operation. The port wants to work a deal so that Subaru's expansion can be part of the port's plan to reconfigure Subaru's port facility. Once the cars arrive at the port, they are finished off with the installment of attachments, such as windshield wipers.

While the transaction is labeled an acquisition, the port already owns the land that it leases to Subaru, said Theresa Wagner, the port's communications manager. "They've got growth plans and we've got growth plans and we're just working on them together," she said.

Port staff estimate it will cost about $470,000 to acquire and relocate a portion of Subaru's operation. Subaru will be responsible for its own construction costs on the new building.

Todd Coleman, the port's executive director, said it can be lucrative for the port to maintain good relations with tenants such as Subaru of America, which imported approximately 69,000 vehicles last year. The arrival of vehicles onshore and eventually in showrooms not only means employment for people along the Vancouver waterfront, but it also injects money into Clark County's economy and the region.

"We're hoping for over 80,000 (vehicles)," Coleman said. "We want to make sure they have adequate property to do this."

Subaru expects to use its planned 15,500-square-foot building to clean vehicles and install "after-market" accessories, according to the company's development application with the City of Vancouver's Community and Economic Development Department. The application, deemed fully complete on May 1, would expand the company's 57,700-square-foot shipping and processing facility, the application said.

A phone message left with Subaru of America's Vancouver operation was not returned.

At the port meeting, commissioners also received an update on the West Vancouver Freight Access project, started in 2007 to improve freight movement through the port and along the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad mainlines. Parts of the project include rebuilding bridges, demolishing existing structures and rebuilding industrial sites, such as ongoing work to tear down and rebuild a warehouse and silo at the Great Western Malting facility.

Port officials expect to complete the entire rail access project in 2017, Wagner said.