The Port of Vancouver and a private developer exchanged sharp jabs Tuesday over their separate efforts to rejuvenate Vancouver’s waterfront with a vibrant mix of residents, workers, shops and open spaces.
Port leaders, in discussing a draft master plan for 10 acres of the port’s Terminal 1 waterfront property that includes the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, suggested that work on the adjoining 32 acres to be developed by Columbia Waterfront LLC was stalled. Port officials suggested their Terminal 1 project could jump-start the larger waterfront redevelopment by including housing — an idea that drew the ire of Columbia Waterfront developer Barry Cain.
Cain said the port shouldn’t try to duplicate the plan for the 32-acre site, which has long included residential development among its components. Instead, he said, the port should pursue building more public amenities at Terminal 1, where the port intends to develop a new hotel to replace the Red Lion, which closes Oct. 31.
“It’s a poor idea” for a public entity such as the port “to come in and compete with us on every type of property we’re working on,” Cain said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s a poor decision, and it’s bad for downtown.”
With the Terminal 1 effort, two port commissioners said, the port is acting as a leader in the community and is making quicker progress than Columbia Waterfront. Columbia Waterfront is “far behind,” Commissioner Jerry Oliver said, with announcements of hotel and restaurant agreements but nothing to show for it. Oliver also said: “If you rely on other people, sometimes you’re stuck with their calendar.”
The port’s CEO, Todd Coleman, said including residential development in the port’s plan would benefit the downtown area if Columbia Waterfront’s residential units don’t come on-line soon enough. Several developers say the “financials don’t work” for Columbia Waterfront, Coleman said during the port commission’s public meeting Tuesday. “I hope they’re wrong.”
Cain, president of Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development — a member, along with local investors, of Columbia Waterfront — ticked off several signs of progress for Columbia Waterfront’s project. Those include “a hotel deal we just signed today,” Cain said, a lease for a 20,000-square-foot office tenant, current negotiations with three 8,000-square-foot restaurants and a $20 million park that will break ground in November.
Noting that he’s completed some 60 successful development projects over several decades, Cain said Coleman has no idea what makes a private development project work. “He’s the one that doesn’t have any track record,” Cain said.
Tuesday’s clash wasn’t the first time the port and Cain have exchanged fire. Cain opposes the port’s lease deal for what would be the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal. The oil terminal would be built less than 2 miles west of the 32-acre waterfront site, which is next to port and BNSF Railway tracks.
However, Tuesday’s flap opened a new rift between the two parties. It demonstrated, for the first time, that the port and Cain don’t just disagree about the oil terminal; they’re also moving forward on their adjacent waterfront projects as elbow-throwing competitors — not harmonious developers.
‘We have a vision’
Not all of the port’s leaders agreed that the Terminal 1 plan should include residential development.
Commissioner Brian Wolfe said the port’s plan includes apartments or workforce housing, which contrasts with the higher-end condos envisioned by Columbia Waterfront.
But Wolfe said he’s still resistant to adding residential to the port’s plan, which includes a mix of hotel, office and retail uses. That’s in part because it would “run smack into” the residential development that’s part of Columbia Waterfront’s plan, Wolfe said.
John Savo, a principal of Seattle-based NBBJ — a consultant to the port — told commissioners they have to balance the interests of the port with Columbia Waterfront. The idea of the Terminal 1 plan “is to kick-start” and complement Columbia Waterfront’s project, Savo said, and to avoid “replacing things they want to do.”
“That’s exactly why I’m resisting” putting residential in the port’s plan, Wolfe replied.
At one point during the port’s public meeting Tuesday, Coleman also said he hoped the port’s Terminal 1 project would act as a catalyst for Columbia Waterfront’s development. If Columbia Waterfront breaks ground on residential units over the next six months — as the port is seeking permits for its Terminal 1 project — then the port’s interest in doing residential development “will hit lower … on the priority list,” Coleman said.
But there are no guarantees, Coleman said. Including residential units in the Terminal 1 plan could be seen as a fallback position to encourage 24-7 vibrancy downtown.
Commissioner Oliver said he thinks redevelopment of Terminal 1 is “going to happen a lot sooner, because we have control over it. We have a vision and, by gosh, we’re going to carry through with it.”
Echoing other comments by Oliver, Commissioner Nancy Baker said it should be made clear that the Terminal 1 redevelopment project is a port project — not an overall Vancouver waterfront project. “This is a port project,” she said. “It’s doing what we’ve always done, which is making a positive impact and leading in this community.”
Cain said he thinks the port is “making it up as they go” with Terminal 1 and that the port sees building its own waterfront development as a way of showing state regulators there’s no conflict between such a project and the oil terminal.
“I think that’s what they came up with,” he said.
The port doesn’t care about downtown, Cain said; otherwise, it would drop the oil terminal as a bad idea. “They just care about themselves.”
Master plan vote
The port commission’s public meeting Tuesday was part of a larger process the port launched in December.
That’s when commissioners unanimously approved hiring Portland-based Leland Consulting Group, for up to $250,000, to advise the port about the market and financial feasibility of redeveloping the Terminal 1 property. Work on the master plan launched in April, when commissioners unanimously approved hiring NBBJ for no more than $300,000.
The port and its consultants are taking public input as part of the master-planning process.
Port commissioners are expected to vote Sept. 22 on a preferred master plan for the Terminal 1 property. The plan would then go to the city of Vancouver for a review that’s expected to last from October through April 2016.