Vancouver Waterfront developer: Hundreds have inquired about condos

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

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Though it is little more than a construction yard near the Columbia River right now, the Vancouver Waterfront is already dredging up interest.

More than 900 people have inquired about upcoming condominiums at the site, according to Barry Cain, whose company Gramor Development is leading the project.

The Tualatin, Ore.-based construction firm set up a website last year showcasing the project and its progress. One section allows visitors to file letters of interest in condominiums, and that created the deluge, Cain said.

“One of the things we did was on our website, if you’re interested (in a condo), you can give us your name and keep us up to date,” he said in a recent interview with The Columbian. “We looked the other day and we were surprised to find 900 people had put their name down.”

There are at least 100 condos planned so far, said Cain. That could change, as the 32-acre swath will be built in phases and some projects are still being finalized. The first buildings in the 21-block development won’t open until spring 2018.

Forty condos alone belong to Kirkland Tower, an 11-story building planned for the corner of Esther Street and Waterfront Way. The building will be a sibling to the eight-story Hotel Indigo. The combined projects cost $55 million.

Vancouver-based developer Kirkland Development believes it’s making the smart investment. CEO Dean Kirkland said the condos, which could cost $600 to $800 per square foot, will cater to potential homeowners looking to live in a dense downtown, bustling with restaurants and shops.

“It really creates an entrée where people can come in, own their own unit and be part of the waterfront and live down there and maintain residency,” he said. “I looked at that, and I really felt it would take off.”

The company recently added floors to its plans for both buildings, including five additional condos.

Most of the inquiries are coming from Clark County residents, Cain said, suggesting there are people looking for a downtown core without having to move across the river.

“I think there’s a big desire to have urban living and not (have to) live in Portland,” he said. “I think as we get going, it will surprise people how big of a market it is.”

The demand is owed largely to a shortage of condos in the area, according to real estate experts in the Portland metro area.

Greg Frick, of Portland investment firm HFO Investments, said there is high demand across the river, too, because retirees will move to Washington to avoid state income tax and often don’t want to maintain a house.

“We’ve always had the demand of retirees going up (to Vancouver) because of the tax situation,” he said.

Terry Wollam, a managing broker at ReMax Equity Group in Vancouver, said Washington developers have shied from condos because when things go wrong, the buildings can become legal wasp’s nests.

“Every builder that I know of will have to build a substantial legal fund, because there are attorney groups who solely pursue condo associations to sue the builder or developer of the project,” he said.

Counting apartments and condos together, Cain estimated the waterfront would boast 2,500 residential units when it’s all said and done.

Moving dirt

The scale of the $1.5 billion waterfront development may be more apparent now that construction workers and backhoes are entrenched in foundational work.

The Grant Street Pier, a cable-stayed pier that will jut out over the Columbia River, should be completed in a year, Cain said. Battle Ground construction firm Tapani Inc. started work on the waterfront park last month. The two projects will cost an estimated $30 million.

Construction on two restaurant buildings near the waterfront park could start within the next two months, Cain said. An office building will start construction soon after that. A lot of work will be done to build underground parking.

“There will be a few months where it will all be underground,” Cain said. He added that a crane could arrive at the site soon, and structures may start rising by the summer.

The Waterfront Master Plan, first adopted in 2009, entails 400,000 square feet of retail and 1.12 million square feet of office space.

Terminal 1

The Port of Vancouver is moving forward with its own waterfront development, Terminal 1.

In December, the agency submitted an application for its master plans with the city of Vancouver. Public comments are being accepted on the plan, which can be viewed online. Public comments are open through mid-March.

The city council could vote whether to approve the plans in late spring or summer, according to Abbi Russell, port public information officer.

If approved, another application would go in front of the state Department of Ecology to conduct work near the shoreline. If that passes, the port could then start developing Terminal 1.

Plans submitted to the city say the 10.37-acre stretch of waterfront property — near the site of the former Red Lion at the Quay — could include 355 residential units, 62,000 square feet of retail and 200,000 square feet of commercial office space.

WareHouse ’23 opened at the former hotel in July. The AC by Marriott, a 160-room hotel with convention space, is also proposed. Russell said demolition of some structures on the property will start in the spring.