Tower Plaza shifts from mall to offices to services

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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Town Plaza, formerly known as Tower Mall, has undergone an evolution since its time as a retail center in the 1970s. Today, the largest tenant at 5411 E. Mill Plain Blvd. is Bethesda church.

Built in 1970, Tower Mall was touted as Clark County’s first enclosed, air-conditioned shopping center. It was anchored by Safeway. Other retailers such as Cecil’s Barber Shop opened in 1971. Tower Mall for many years boasted an old-fashioned steakhouse and cocktail lounge, Diamond Jim’s.

“But within five years, construction of the $50 million Vancouver Mall as a giant regional shopping center near Interstate 205 had the 29 merchants at the smaller mall worried. And they were right to be concerned,” retired Columbian Business Editor Julia Anderson wrote in a story published Feb. 25, 2002.

The mall was too small and didn’t quite have the right location to attract larger retail tenants. Overbuilding in the 1980s, poor locations and changing shopping habits were blamed for the demise of shopping malls. Over the years many older properties around the country, such as Tower Mall, were converted to other uses.

When government agencies started occupying spaces at 5411 E. Mill Plain Blvd., the building attracted fewer walk-in customers.

A $6 million renovation completed in 2003 transformed the building from retail to office space, or a “professional business center,” as the sign says outside.

Many of the public agencies have since moved out. The state Department of Licensing office was at the plaza for roughly three decades before it closed, reopening on Northeast 136th Avenue next to the state’s vehicle emissions testing station. In 2002, Clark County’s two welfare offices merged and opened in the newly refurbished Town Plaza. However, the state Department of Social and Health Services then had a new office building constructed in 2014 on Northeast 136th Avenue and moved out of Town Plaza.

Even the Post Office temporarily leased space there until moving to a new distribution center.

WorkSource moved from Town Plaza to Stonemill Drive in 2015. Clark College, which became a tenant in 1992, moved out as well, though the outline of its sign can still be seen in the main hall above a sign advertising space for lease.

Many spaces in the zigzag of hallways comprising Town Plaza are vacant, though it’s still home to public services and nonprofits. SeaMar has an office there, including its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food and nutrition program. The Clark and Skamania County offices for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Washington are located there. Catholic Community Services, nonprofit DeafVibe and the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors program are also tenants.

Dance school Groove Nation is across the hall from Bethesda. The church plans to expand in the building and offer services to the community.

Town Plaza ownership has changed over the years. Clark County property records say the building is currently owned by 5403 & 5411 East Mill Plain Blvd. Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of CWCapital, which is based — coincidentally or not — in Bethesda, Md.

As of February 2017, Town Plaza was 41.22 percent occupied by 12 tenants with an average remaining lease term of 3.75 years, CWCapital said on its website. The website also says the 11.83-acre property and its three buildings will go on sale in May at a starting bid of $3 million.