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The Vancouver Waterfront is starting to take shape

Construction is set to begin later this year on long-in-the-works $1.3 billion project

By , Columbian City Government Reporter
Published:
2 Photos
An aerial photograph shot Jan. 7 shows the site of the 32-acre Waterfront Vancouver project. Construction on five buildings and a city park is set to begin this summer.
An aerial photograph shot Jan. 7 shows the site of the 32-acre Waterfront Vancouver project. Construction on five buildings and a city park is set to begin this summer. (The Columbian) Photo Gallery

This is the year big things will happen at the Waterfront Vancouver, an ambitious $1.3 billion commercial and residential project nearly a decade in the making.

Developers have announced the first restaurant and office building tenants to sign onto the project: Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar and M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The city has lined up money for a $17 million waterfront park at the heart of the 21-block project featuring a futuristic, cable-suspended pier.

Construction on the park and five buildings — two restaurant buildings, two apartment buildings and one office building — is slated to begin this summer.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt called it “an extremely exciting period for our community.”

“There’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of persistence, a lot of great collaboration between the public and private partners involved,” he said Wednesday. “To bring it to fruition after eight years of diligence, it’s nice to know we’ll see the shovels turning some dirt this year. … It’s turning the page into a bright, exciting and prosperous future.”

‘The long game’

Despite developers repeatedly stating for more than a year that they’ve signed a hotel for the project, no announcement has been forthcoming.

This month, Barry Cain, president of Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development, said the hotel he’d been working with most recently “isn’t in a position to move forward … so we’re looking at our other choices. … We just don’t have anything to announce, unfortunately.”

Cain said Jan. 5 that he’d just gotten out of a meeting with another hotel company that had made an offer on the property, which he called a “great” location for a hotel.

“They’re interested, and it’s a good brand,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get something settled.”

City officials say they aren’t concerned by the delay in signing on a hotel. In Gramor’s development agreement with the city, there’s no mention of a hotel as a requirement for the project’s first phase, but at least four buildings on at least three blocks must be under construction by July 1, 2017, said Community and Economic Development Director Chad Eiken.

Eiken said the city wants to see urban-scale development at the waterfront soon. However, developments don’t typically start with hotels. Restaurants, offices and residential units usually come first, he said.

Florian Zach, a faculty fellow at Washington State University’s School of Hospitality Business Management, agreed. Hotel companies usually open new properties in areas with high daytime populations, he said.

“To reduce uncertainty in new areas, hotel companies decide to wait for awhile before making an investment,” Zach stated in an email, offering as an example the Vancouver Tech Center, a bustling area with business parks and retail outlets that has attracted a couple of hotels.

City Manager Eric Holmes said Tuesday the city’s view has “always been on the long game.” Big urban projects are complex, and so it doesn’t surprise him that it’s taking awhile for Gramor to put the whole development together.

“It’ll happen,” he said.

Other buildings

Aside from trying to nail down a hotel, Gramor has been finalizing its subdivision plats with the city, after which the company can sell off blocks to other developers and generate cash flow for other projects.

With a restaurant lease signed, “We’re going to see more and more things come up on a regular basis,” Cain said.

The Waterfront Vancouver Timeline

• 2005: Boise Cascade announces it will close its paper-finishing operation along Vancouver’s downtown waterfront and sell the 32-acre property.

• 2006: Developer Barry Cain forms Columbia Waterfront LLC with local investors Jan and Steve Oliva, Al and Sandee Kirkwood, Jo Marie and Steve Hansen, and George and Paula Diamond.

• 2008: Columbia Waterfront LLC acquires the former industrial site.

• 2009: The city of Vancouver approves Columbia Waterfront’s master development plan for the site.

• 2014: A $44 million access project is completed, featuring two new railroad bridges at Esther and Grant streets, three new streets, the closure of railroad crossings at Jefferson and Eighth streets, and related utility work.

• 2015 :The city builds a $4.7 million extension of Columbia Way, the main east-west access street to the site.

• 2016: Construction begins this summer on a city park with a pier, two restaurant buildings, two apartment buildings and one office building.

• 2017: City park, restaurants and buildings are scheduled to open late in the year.

Overlooking a yet-to-be-built cable-suspended pier, Twigs Bistro will open up to a promenade and waterfront park, with outdoor seating providing a vista of the Columbia River. The Spokane-based eatery will be in a 8,320-square-foot space on the ground floor.

M.J. Murdock, a nonprofit group that awards millions of dollars in grants annually, plans to move its Vancouver executive headquarters from 703 Broadway to the top two floors of a seven-story building at 305 Columbia Way. The lease for the 18,000-square-foot space begins Sept. 1, 2017.

The other buildings that will rise this summer include a 14-story, $52 million apartment tower with 150 living units and a condominium building of up to 15 floors and more than 100 units. Proposed rents for the apartments will range from $950 for a studio to $2,700 for a two-bedroom unit to $3,900 for a penthouse, according to city documents.

Cain said Gramor must work closely with the city on the project because the restaurant buildings are nestled in with the park and pier, necessitating that construction be coordinated.

When finished, the city park will be “incredible,” Holmes said.

Constructing the 7-acre park quickly and correctly in concert with the developer is one of the city’s highest construction priorities, Holmes said. The contract for a riverfront trail has been awarded, and the city is preparing bid packages for the park and Grant Street Pier. The pier’s triangular design was created by internationally acclaimed artist Larry Kirkland, whose public art can be found around the world.

The park’s half-mile trail along the river will connect to the 5-mile-long Waterfront Renaissance Trail. At the parks’ west end will be a floating fishing dock, which will be wheelchair-accessible.

Holmes emphasized that the investments the city has been making are meant to last 100 to 200 years.

“High schoolers from today will be able to take their great-grandkids to the river,” he said.

Columbian City Government Reporter

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