Something new seems to appear with every glance at The Waterfront Vancouver, but even as construction increases this summer, developers say there is a long way to go.
“There’s so much that has to happen in the next couple months,” developer Barry Cain told The Columbian in a phone interview last week. “It’s just a lot going on. It’s a big deal trying to get it open.”
Nearly two years after breaking ground, the $1.5 billion project’s first five buildings are upright. A sixth, to house the Hotel Indigo, is expected to break ground this summer. What was once the site of the Boise Cascade paper mill is now beginning to resemble the plaza of restaurants, offices and apartments promised in artists’ renderings.
And, by design, word is starting to spread. Tourism agency Visit Vancouver USA quietly launched an ad campaign in Portland at the end of May, putting up 10 billboards and several bus wraps showcasing “The ‘Couve’s New Views” at the waterfront. More ads are coming this summer, too.
“It’s a big push,” said Jacob Schmidt, a spokesman for the agency.
Yet even with hype mounting, there are no firm opening dates. Ideas of a grand opening for June, July or August have come and gone. Now Cain said it makes more sense to open piece by piece.
Did You Know?
The city of Vancouver waterfront park will have:
• 187 trees planted.
• 23,612 species of shrubs, grasses, ground covers, perennials planted.
• 28 benches.
• 18 bike racks.
• 14 garbage cans.
• 14 recycling cans.
• 24,753 tons of armor stone and 1,938 tons of streambed cobble installed for bank protection.
• 6,534 cubic yards of topsoil imported for shrubs beds and lawn areas.
“At one time I thought we’d do it all at once, but I really like the idea of staggering it,” he said.
Stakeholders do not appear to be in a rush. Like suspending the Grant Street Pier over the Columbia River, or laying 3,000-pound basalt stones for seating at the 7.3-acre park, they say they are just focused on the task at hand.
Seafood restaurant WildFin American Grill is likely to be the first business to open at the waterfront, but, like its peers, it is very much a work in progress.
Orange paint and tiles near the kitchen suggest the eatery’s final look, as does a large take-out window and a garage door-style window that functionally slides open to welcome the outdoor ambiance.
Still, owner Attila Szabo said Monday that the restaurant will not hurry. Utility work and infrastructure like plumbing still has to be installed before they can even focus on the finishing touches, like seating and decor.
“We’ll be ready as soon as it’s commercially feasible,” Szabo said. He added that he expects private investment in the restaurant to exceed $3 million.
In the two restaurant buildings that flank the pier, there will be at least four more restaurants to follow WildFin in opening at the waterfront.
Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar is the only other restaurant announced at this time. The Spokane-based restaurant has started building up its space and expects to spend at least $1 million on construction, according to filings with the city of Vancouver.
A third tenant could be announced soon that would replace Ghost Runners Brewery. After the Vancouver brewery’s assets were split in a legal battle, a lease at the waterfront now belongs solely to a Texas-based entrepreneur. There is no word yet on what it will become.
If waiting for those pieces to align sounds as thrilling as watching the grass grow, that’s a feeling the city of Vancouver might understand.
Patience in the park
Like most of the waterfront, a new park that runs throughout the development has a long way to go. City officials say it will be worth the wait.
“This is such a showcase project,” said Terry Snyder, a landscape architect for the city who is overseeing a lot of publicly owned amenities at the waterfront. “It’s really a game-changer.”
Signs of life are popping up at the park already. Sections have been sculpted into tiers to maximize views for the strolling public. Large, basalt stone steps create a somewhat amphitheater-type effect, and it is dotted with high-quality benches. Trail segments are also nearly complete.
Still, one key ingredient is missing: grass. Snyder said the city does not plan to lay sod, but instead seed grass that likely won’t grow strong enough for the public’s treading until the fall.
“The biggest question we will (have) with opening the park is how long it takes for the grass to get established to the point that it will not be damaged by park users,” he said.
One of the park’s biggest attractions is also still heavily under construction. The team behind the cantilevered Grant Street Pier is also building a 180-foot water feature at the park, aimed at illustrating the scope of the Columbia River basin.
As designed, a 12-by-16-foot monolith will stream water down its face to five granite stacks that abstractly represent various tributaries. The monolith will boast maps and various flourishes aimed at reintroducing the public to the river systems that helped build the community, the team said.
“The rivers in the Northwest are dominant in every aspect of life,” said John Grant, whose firm Public Art Services is helping design and build the structure. “I think that … Vancouver especially has been held back from this river for most of its history because of the pulp mill. This is a returning in a way and reminding the people of the importance of that river on a more daily basis.”
The feature will open this year, Grant said, but he declined to specify when. The granite stones are currently being crafted in Italy. Then in August and September, crews will install the plumbing beneath the ground.