Fourth tower coming at Vancouvercenter?

Size will vary based on a new light-gauge steel structure framing system

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

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Some downtown property that has been in development limbo for years appears to be gaining momentum again.

Vancouver officials on Monday will discuss the future of Vancouvercenter, a trio of mixed-use towers and an unused quadrant next to Esther Short Park. The city has had a development agreement with the property’s owner.

That owner, Vandevco, hopes to sell the southern tower and the empty parcel to Holland Partnership Group, which would build the fourth and final tower and add another asset to the city’s downtown core.

“Overall, it leads to more vibrancy and more support for restaurants and businesses downtown,” said Chad Eiken, economic development director for the city.

But the city has a few rules to reconsider before the tower’s timetable and designs can be finalized.

According to a recent staff report, Holland hopes to use a new framing technique that is still unfamiliar on the West Coast. Called light-gauge steel framing, it is not yet allowed under city building codes. Approving it requires tests, peer reviews and talking with national experts, which could take six months to a year, Eiken said.

“We’d be the first (municipality) in Washington state that I’m aware of, if it’s approved,” said Eiken.

The new technique would allow Holland to build a 10-story tower with 194 residential units. If the framing technique is not approved, Holland would likely build a six-story, 116-unit tower with a wood frame. Both would have 2,200 square feet of retail.

However, tax breaks for multifamily construction could end up making the decision for them.

Holland will seek a multifamily tax abatement from the city, freeing them from paying residential taxes, to any entity, for eight to 12 years. That would go into effect as soon as the city approves the sale and adds Holland to the development agreement.

Because the abatement demands that a building is finished within four years — two years plus a two-year extension — the city may add an extra year. Otherwise it could be too tight of a window for the light gauge steel frame to be realistic, he said

“If they don’t, (Holland will) probably have to turn their attention to a six-story building,” Eiken said.

Representatives for Holland did not respond to requests for comment.

These new choices facing the city are just the latest in the efforts to get a fourth Vancouvercenter tower built. The first three towers and a parking garage were built in 2004 on the site of the former Lucky Lager brewery, and the city has been trying to get them developed since 1999.