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‘Gateway project’ seeks to boost Vancouver’s urban core

Developer has ambitious plan for two buildings, two and a half city blocks downtown

By , Columbian staff writer
Published: August 15, 2016, 6:05am
5 Photos
An artist’s rendering of how the triangular building south of West Third Street on Washington Streets could look, viewed from the southeast corner. The Smith Tower is visible on the right side of the image. (Courtesy of Hurley Development)
An artist’s rendering of how the triangular building south of West Third Street on Washington Streets could look, viewed from the southeast corner. The Smith Tower is visible on the right side of the image. (Courtesy of Hurley Development) Photo Gallery

The Vancouver Waterfront development might be the most anticipated project in the city, but developer Ryan Hurley believes his plans to redevelop two and a half city blocks near the state Highway 14 and Interstate 5 interchange will set a precedent for the future of the city’s urban core.

“While the waterfront project is absolutely significant to this downtown’s revitalization, this project is the gateway,” he said. “What I build here incredibly matters because it will speak to where our city is going.”

When completed, the two new buildings on West Fifth and West Third streets will stand six stories high. One will be for offices and the other may be a hotel. To passers-by and potential future residents of the metro area, Hurley thinks the buildings will say Vancouver is making strides into a vibrant future and has more appeal than any other Portland suburb.

“This area is incredibly deficient as far as its appeal,” Hurley said. “It’s been an eyesore, a burden to downtown, yet it is one of the most visually important areas to the entire downtown corridor.”

South and east of Esther Short Park, the blocks are home to an empty lot, a couple of parking lots, a restored building housing Pacific Energy Concepts, and the old Eagle Automotive building.

“What’s the point of doing this? It’s not all about money. I want to make a difference in this city — a big one,” Hurley added.

Hurley says he is committed to moral and ethical development to better the city. Since starting his company in 2008, he’s been involved in more than a dozen development projects around the city.

Many of those are in downtown Vancouver, including the former Sparks Home Furnishings site on the corner of East Evergreen Boulevard and Broadway Street and the rock-climbing facility now called The Source Climbing Gym on the southwest corner of West 12th and Main streets.

Hurley’s latest proposal for downtown is also his most ambitious to date.

Hurley’s company, Hurley Development, is remodeling an existing building and plans to build two more along Washington Street from West Fifth Street down to the BNSF Railway tracks near West Third Street. The details of final floor plans and aesthetics are still in the works for the two new buildings, but the broader concepts are in place.

Hurley describes the aesthetics of the buildings as “very contemporary in nature” and in keeping with the Northwest and technological influences in the design.

The building on the corner of Fifth and Washington is planned to be a six-story apartment or hotel. The 30,000-square-foot project sits next to the 10,000-square-foot current home of Pacific Energy Concepts. Hurley Development owns both spaces but hasn’t decided whether to build on just the vacant lot, or to raze the current building and redevelop the entire city block.

The building at Third and Washington will be a triangular, six-floor, 32,000-square-foot office condominium, where space is sold, rather than leased. Each floor will be about 6,000 square feet.

“Which is a nice chunk for a small company,” Hurley said. “There’s not much for sale in that square footage range, so we saw an opportunity there and it draws fresh owners to the area.”

The company plans to break ground on the projects in December.

Between the new buildings is the former site of Eagle Street Automotive. That building, built decades ago as an auto dealership, is being remodeled to become a nearly 16,000-square-foot future home for Pacific Energy Concepts and a 10,000-square-foot parking lot, which that company owns, but which Hurley is revamping.

“The last four years have been awesome to be here in downtown Vancouver,” said Pacific Energy Concepts owner Keith Scott. “It’s been fun to have a culture environment down here.”

Scott’s company specializes in industrial and commercial energy consulting and helps companies switch to more energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing lighting systems.

With Vancouver’s Esther Short neighborhood benefitting from years of development and the waterfront coming to fruition, Scott believes Hurley’s project will add a sense of connectivity to the downtown’s revitalization.

“It’s a corridor of the waterfront development,” he said. “I think we all as building and business owners should improve the ascetic and make sure it’s a really great, really safe environment.”

Planned building heights trouble local pilots

The height of Hurley Development’s proposed buildings for downtown Vancouver has some pilots and advocates of Pearson Field worried about takeoffs from the historic airport.

“It’s all in airplane climb issues,” said George Welsh of the group Pearson Field Advocates for General Aviation.

Vancouver city code defines the maximum height of buildings in downtown. The maximum height where Hurley’s building are proposed is 60 feet unless the developer secures a permit. Anything taller, such has Hurley’s buildings, requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which Hurley has secured.

One of Hurley’s proposed 90-foot-tall buildings would sit between West Third Street and the BNSF Railway tracks, just about in the middle of the flight path and about a half a mile from the end of Pearson’s runway.

Pearson pilots fly in what airport manager Willy Williamson describes as a complex airspace. Pilots can’t fly over the Columbia River or too high above downtown because those areas are part of Portland International Airport’s airspace. They avoid flying over downtown Vancouver because of noise. Buildings planned for the Vancouver Waterfront will narrow the airport’s current flight path from 1,100 feet to about 350 feet.

Welsh said many small airplanes climb around 400 feet per minute when passengers are included or the engine isn’t running perfectly. In the 20 seconds it takes pilots to reach downtown, he says they could be less than 100 feet over the top of Hurley’s buildings.

Welsh wants to be clear he thinks Hurley did everything he was supposed to and is well within his rights to build the buildings, but he’s still troubled by their height.

“If you can’t get over the building and for any reason you gotta fly around it … we end up with about 100 feet on either side of that building to fly through,” Welsh said. “That’s really threading the needle.”

The FAA didn’t immediately respond about the proposed building between closest to the train tracks. FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer did address the building proposed for Washington Street and West Fifth Avenue.

“The building would pose no hazard to aircraft or people on the ground, but the FAA would post an advisory stating that the building is in very close proximity to two airports, and is very close to the departure and arrival corridors of Pearson Field and directly under the arrival and departure corridors for Portland International Airport,” he said.

Williamson says the FAA doesn’t look at the aggregate of buildings and obstructions, but considers one issue at a time.

Chad Eiken, Vancouver’s director of community and economic development, said the city is working on an amendment to the downtown building height limits that would require additional consultation with the airport manager for a local perspective on air safety. An ordinance likely won’t come to the city council until November or December, he said.

“Wearing my economic development hat, we want to see downtown built to the maximum density possible but we don’t want to compromise air safety. So it’s a balance we’re trying to strike,” Eiken said.

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