Sunday, February 5, 2023
Feb. 5, 2023

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In Our View: Self-Interest Propels Port

Spat with developer latest sign of public entity’s disconnect from community role

The Columbian

The idea sounds simple enough: Public entities that receive tax money and are governed by an elected board should be in the business of assisting and supporting private enterprise. They should take a big-picture, community-building approach rather than wallowing in self-interest.

Oh, if only the Port of Vancouver could be so enlightened.

Instead, the latest spat between port officials and a private developer further demonstrates how the port is adrift in a sea of mismanagement. Rather than assessing how they can work to complement a proposed Columbia Waterfront development, port commissioners are considering placing their interests in direct competition with that development while denigrating the progress that has been made.

Port commissioners on Tuesday discussed a draft master plan for 10 acres at Terminal 1 — a waterfront area that includes the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, which will close Oct. 31. While considering plans for a hotel on the site, commissioners also raised the idea of including residential housing (commissioner Brian Wolfe expressed some reluctance) — a suggestion that has drawn the ire of Columbia Waterfront developer Barry Cain. “It’s a poor idea, to come in and compete with us on every type of property we’re working on,” Cain said. “It’s a poor decision, and it’s bad for downtown.”

Cain’s indignation is understandable. He is the president of Gramor Development, which has been working for several years on developing the former Boise Cascade site that lies along the Columbia River and abuts Terminal 1. The proposal for the 32-acre site long has included plans for office space, retail outlets, a park, trails — and upscale condominiums.

Cain, obviously, is guided by self-interest in his concern about the port’s proposal. But the consternation also speaks to the larger issue of a public entity working in competition with a private development. By ignoring the concerns of their neighbors, port commissioners have exacerbated larger concerns about their tone-deaf management style.

The most obvious example was the 2013 approval of the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil terminal, a project that is undergoing review at the state level and one that lies in sharp contrast to a vibrant, lively vision for Vancouver’s future. But other symptoms can be found in port management’s penchant for a culture of secrecy and a demonstrated lack of interest in serving as community partners. It bears repeating that the port is a public entity that benefits from about $10 million annually in tax money and has elected commissioners. In discussing the development of Terminal 1, commissioners emphasized that it is a port project, all the while giving scant attention to the port’s role as a community partner.

Along the way, commissioners criticized the Gramor waterfront development as being behind schedule and being financially not viable. Rather than consider how a public entity might assist that project, commissioners are doing little to help. This is unacceptable for a entity whose own strategic plan boasts of a “commitment to . . . collaboration with our community and local government partners,” and whose mission statement says, “We support and improve the community where we live, work and in which our children grow up. We strive to be good citizens locally and globally …”

When you are a public entity, good citizenry involves putting aside self-interests and working for the betterment of the community. That is a simple idea, and it is one the Port of Vancouver should embrace.