Gray light floods every corner and bounces between bricks and beams on the wide-open third floor of the unfinished Hudson Building. Visible from the wide windows are other unfinished projects — the revitalization of downtown, the development of the waterfront — that the Hudson will stand watch over for years to come.
The deliberately traditional design of the building at 101 Sixth St. is obvious. Structural bricks and heavy timber give the building a low profile and a long shelf life, right in the middle of where everything, we’re told, is happening.
“It’s an entrance to downtown, and it makes a positive impression,” said Adam Tyler, development manager with Killian Pacific, the commercial development firm that is building the Hudson and will become an anchor tenant. “It’s the building at our front door.”
Behind that door lies an unfinished canvas painted with blooming development but still abundant empty lots, such as those at Block 10 and south of the library, and boarded-up windows, including the ones staring back at the Hudson, reflecting off the optimistic lens of those glass panes.
The Hudson is unequivocally a better front porch than the run-down hotel that once occupied the full-block site, and the bricks — not a facade but fully structural bricks — greets those coming off the Interstate 5 Bridge with a nod to the past, just as the name of the building does.
“A structural brick building is a unique thing anymore,” Tyler said. “This is how they built buildings 100 years ago.”
The Hudson, named for the region’s early traders at Fort Vancouver, is the first new downtown office building in recent memory. Watching the time-lapse video of the construction that started in March 2015 doesn’t do justice to what it took to get here.
Tyler said Killian years ago bought the property that had been home to a rundown residential hotel and former nightclub. Along with the Columbia Bank building it built next door, Killian has long had plans for the corner of Sixth and Main.
“It’s meant to fill a need not being met in downtown Vancouver,” Tyler said.
Killian is moving its offices from another downtown location to the Hudson, as is Mackenzie, the regional architect, planning and engineering firm. The first tenant to give the building life is Pacific Continental Bank, based in Eugene, Ore.
“It’s a great time for Vancouver. We consider this our office of the future,” said Kristi Weaver, senior vice president of the bank. “We haven’t built an office in 10 years. We could have done this anywhere in our footprint — Eugene, Seattle, Tacoma — but we did this here because this is where it’s growing, where there is tremendous opportunity.”
The bank will take a major ground-floor footprint to serve — and perhaps impress — its largely business and nonprofit customers.
“It’s not really a branch, it’s really more of a meeting place,” Weaver said. “Our clients don’t need that brick-and-mortar to do their banking anymore. We want it to be more of a conversation when they come in and less of waiting in line.”
High ceilings and an open staircase frame the lobby, now loosely speckled with furniture but soon to be the home of artwork and a food and drink cart. Tyler said the windows open and allow the lobby to spill onto the sidewalk, where during warm summer evenings, after the building opens in March, there’s a chance you can catch some loosened ties and the smells of a barbecue.
Upstairs, past the bike locker, the dividing walls aren’t up yet, but the shared conference room will be on the west side — don’t mind the foosball table on the way back down.
All right — it’s one thing to be envious of another’s home. But of another’s workspace?
“Today’s workforce doesn’t value the old office style anymore,” Tyler said. “Today’s workforce is looking for something unique.”
The shared spaces and forced interactions have a collegiate feel, and Killian is betting that’s an attractive prospect for companies.
“It’s not just for our space,” said Tyler, “but for small, growing tenants in Southwest Washington — as opposed to exporting them to where these facilities already exist.”
Yet in a time of new beginnings for downtown, none of the Hudson’s announced tenants are new businesses for Vancouver, and they leave behind vacancies of their own. It’s a common trend, seen even as the first tenant at the waterfront project — M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust — announced it was relocating from downtown.
Looking north from the third floor of the Hudson offers a reminder the city has more than potholes to fill. Above the fashionable Top Shelf tavern on Sixth and Main sit so many boarded-up windows begging for redevelopment, and just down the street the former beauty school sits vacant. The city-owned gravel pit along Eighth and Washington — seemingly prime real estate — and the field fronting the library likewise linger undeveloped.
They’ll have to get in line behind the dozen other buildings and lots looking for love — such as the soon-to-be-vacant Pacific Continental building, though there are plans for that space.
“The owners are selling,” Weaver said. “There is a complete rehab planned by buyers for that site.”
As the march of downtown development continues, Killian’s founder George Killian and his son are “motivated to invest in Vancouver long-term,” Tyler said, even as the company stretches further into Portland and outside firms reach into Vancouver.
With the potential for Main Street to connect to the waterfront and a new bridge over the Columbia River, the southern portion of that street is looking to fill up and fill in the gaps of new development and old needs.
“We’re really hoping that we can help inspire some more redevelopment down at that end of Main Street that will lead up the street,” Weaver said.
The Hudson is just another brick on the way.