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Saturday, June 3, 2023
June 3, 2023

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Port advances waterfront plan amid skepticism

Some fear project will compete with separate redevelopment effort

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

The Port of Vancouver on Tuesday advanced a broad plan for redeveloping 10 acres of its Terminal 1 waterfront property, with details to be hammered out later. However, the plan’s unanimous approval by commissioners came amid continuing skepticism during public comments about whether its plan conflicts with a larger adjoining waterfront redevelopment project.

The discussion was sprinkled with awkward moments and differences of opinion between port CEO Todd Coleman and some who testified. And the port made changes to its proposed plan for Terminal 1, which includes a soon-to-be-closed Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay. The revisions, which allowed for flexibility in the types of buildings and amenities that could be developed at the site, came after port Commissioner Brian Wolfe said he was concerned that labeling buildings now would “box people’s minds into what ought to be there, and we don’t know that yet.”

Leaders of the port’s administration said the Terminal 1 plan — which calls for a mix of office, retail, hotel and residential uses, as well as dock, open-space, pedestrian bridge and public marketplace improvements — reflects extensive public input. They said it also complements both the city’s vision for the waterfront and downtown, and an adjoining effort by Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development, which is spearheading a $1.3 billion redevelopment of 32 acres of former industrial waterfront land.

However, the port’s plan faced criticism, concerns and questions during the port commission’s public meeting Tuesday. Matt Grady, a vice president with Gramor Development, urged port commissioners to expand the Terminal 1 plan’s public amenities. He said port CEO Todd Coleman has previously told Gramor that the port doesn’t want its waterfront plan to compete with Gramor’s. Yet “what we see now” in the port’s plan, Grady said, are office, retail and residential buildings — exactly what Gramor proposes in its master plan.

“There’s (a) duplication of uses going on,” he said. Although Gramor’s project is underway, the port’s plan “can really have a competing impact.”

Grady urged the port to consider more and different types of public amenities at the Terminal 1 site, including a “first-class aquarium” or a maritime research facility or expanded moorage facilities.

Vancouver resident Ron Morrison told commissioners that their controversial pursuit of the nation’s largest rail-to-ship oil transfer terminal — which Gramor president Barry Cain publicly opposes — has prompted “a major sense of distrust in you.” Now, with the port competing with a private business over hotel and other uses, Morrison said, “Mr. Cain does not trust you at this point.”

Teresa Brum, economic development division manager for the city of Vancouver, also spoke to the port Tuesday. After the port gives further shape to its Terminal 1 plan, it must submit the plan to the city of Vancouver for further examination and eventual approval by the city council.

Reading from a prepared statement, Brum said the city “will be particularly interested in understanding how” the port’s proposed mix of uses “will complement and support” Cain’s project to the west, “which already has a master plan,” and how all of it connects to Vancouver’s vision for its city center.

At different points during Tuesday’s meeting, Coleman and the commissioners responded to people’s remarks about the port’s waterfront plan.

Noting the port expects to issue a request for qualifications in hopes of finding a consultant to help it further develop the Terminal 1 plan, Coleman said he “would encourage Gramor to propose an aquarium on the site” and let someone in that business know the port plans to issue a request for qualifications.

“Who knows?” Coleman added. “Maybe it could be a baseball stadium or a NASCAR track.”

Responding to Morrison’s remarks, Coleman said, “there’s this mistrust. Unfortunately, I have to say it’s not just with the port. It seems to be with all of the jurisdictions within this area. It’s really an interesting phenomenon to watch at this point.”

At one point, Wolfe, responding to comments by Grady, said his impression of Cain’s project is that “it’s pretty upscale,” while the port is “trying to achieve something that’s compatible with that but not at that scale, shall we say.”

Turning his attention to Coleman, Wolfe said the “worst thing” the port could do is compete with Cain’s project, which would be unfair after all of the work that’s gone into it.

“Well, I don’t know about fair,” Coleman replied. Then Coleman said it’s been the port’s “goal all along” to avoid direct competition with Cain’s waterfront redevelopment project. The port’s purpose is to help be a catalyst “for success on the waterfront in totality.”

Columbian Port & Economy Reporter