Standing at the prow of the Grant Street Pier suspended above the Columbia River, Barry Cain took on an aura of a conductor facing the orchestra. Cain, the developer of The Waterfront Vancouver, relished the crescendo.
There, he says, that new building on the left is home to Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar. Next door, Maryhill Winery. Upstairs, Barlow’s Public House.
And there, the other building. That’s home to WildFin American Grill. Yes, the second floor is vacant. More on that later, he says. Stay tuned.
And across the fresh asphalt of Waterfront Way stands a veritable basso profundo section of buildings that will supply the people to keep the existing and planned restaurants and retailers hopping — three apartment buildings, a hotel and condominium complex and an office tower.
Cain, in a tour last week of the development, turned his attention to the amenities: a 7-acre park stretching a half-mile along the river that will include a water-flowing art installation and the V-shaped, cable-stayed pier beneath his feet.
A project as grand as this one could even render obsolete a sobriquet that discerning, non-Vancouver residents have used to label Washington’s fourth-largest city for years, an unflattering nickname that indicates anyone who says that word knows that they are from a better place.
Not anymore, Cain says.
This is not your father’s Vantucky.
On Saturday, Cain will be among the speakers praising the long road that has led to the opening of The Waterfront Vancouver. Cain’s Gramor Development Co. of Tualatin, Ore., emerged in 2005 as the winning bidder for the riverfront mill property, endured the Great Recession with his Columbia Waterfront LLC partners and now stands to reap the spoils of continuing development over the next decade — so long as unforeseen calamity does not block its way.
“It is by far the best waterfront,” Cain says. “It’s just going to be such a destination. There’s a big pent-up demand from people in Clark County and that other side of the river to be in an urban environment.”
When fully built, the planned $1.5 billion development on 32 acres will spread over 21 blocks which for more than three decades had been the site of a Boise Cascade paper mill. About $250 million has been spent thus far, Cain estimated.
Officials’ project completing the entire project in seven to a dozen years. It could have 3,300 apartments and condominiums, 250,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space and 1.25 million square feet of class A office space.
If You Go
• What: Grand opening of The Waterfront Vancouver and Waterfront Park.
• When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
• Where: City Waterfront Park and Pier, downtown Vancouver.
Saturday’s celebrations will focus on Phase One, starting with the Grant Street Pier, the V-shaped cantilevered walkway suspended by cables from a 75-foot mast. The city of Vancouver paid for the pier as well as a public plaza and a 7.3-acre park.
Other first-phase components:
• The Murdock at the Waterfront: Seven-story, 70,000-square-foot office building. The tenants include M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Chicago Title, Fidelity National Title and the law firm McKean Smith. The building is well under construction, with completion expected in November.
• Rediviva: A six-story apartment building with 63 units and retail on the first floor. The name comes from the Columbia Rediviva, a ship that in the late 1700s sailed the world and the Pacific Northwest, including the Columbia River. The apartments range from 579 to 1,141 square feet, with rents from $1,826 to $3,283. It is expected be completed in November.
• Hotel Indigo / The Residences at Kirkland Tower: The six-story, 138-room hotel with three restaurants is under construction alongside the adjacent 10-story, 40-unit condo building. Completion is expected next year.
• Riverwest: Seven-story, 207-unit apartment building is expected to be completed next year.
• Block 16: That’s a placeholder name for a proposed 11-story, 80-unit condominium that would be built next to Twigs Bistro. Gramor is the developer, and construction may begin next year, Cain says.
• Port of Vancouver Terminal 1: The endeavor would be separate from The Waterfront Vancouver, but they would be adjacent to each other. The 10-acre site near the Interstate 5 Bridge has had some type of public use since the 1920s, with the now-closed Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at The Quay among them. Currently the old Quay restaurant and banquet space is home to WareHouse ’23, a restaurant and bar.
On Sept. 11, the Port unveiled a projected $30 million plan to build a public market. The AC by Marriott, a proposed nine-story hotel with 160 rooms, is expected to break ground next year.
The focal point of The Waterfront Vancouver will be the Grant Street Pier. The pier juts from two buildings, designed by LRS Architects of Portland, housing the two restaurants opening this week.
Trevor Blackwell, president of Spokane-based QOL Restaurant Group that owns Twigs and a dozen other restaurants, was among the first to commit to the project.
“I was hopeful that they could pull off the vision they had,” Blackwell said recently, seated in the dining area as servers and other employees underwent orientation. Blackwell signed a lease nearly three years ago, but ground-breaking would not take place until the following July.
Back then, Blackwell and his partners — his wife and his father — wondered whether the project would happen.
“The site maps were changing every few months,” he said. “We loved the multiple restaurants that could bring people down to a park area — the view, the pier, everything that was going on. We just liked the feel that this was going to have.”
Across the plaza in the WildFin dining room, Attila Szabo views today’s waterfront with memories of a bygone era. Szabo is president and operating partner of a group that includes four restaurant concepts in the Northwest.
“I remember when this was a mill, when I was a kid,” said Szabo, who grew up downriver on PugetIsland in Wahkiakum County and attended the University of Washington. “You could see it from the bridge.”
WildFin is set to open Monday; Twigs on Wednesday.
Strolling outside the future home of Maryhill Winery’s tasting room, Cain recalled introducing a massive real estate project two years before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the arrival of the Great Recession.
“It was going to come back at some point,” he said of the economy, adding that the recession set the project timeline back no more than two years. “That doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of sleepless nights, you know?”
When Gramor got its first building loan — from US Bank — “that’s when I thought, ‘Ah, we got there,’ ” Cain recalled. “Most people wouldn’t understand that. That’s when you understand, we’re there.”
Another recession will come, he said. And it’s anybody’s guess when that will occur. The value of the project will endure any economic speed bump, he said.
The only reason Vancouver had not until now participated in the urban housing boom that’s taken place in Portland had been the former paper mill, Cain contended.
“It’s that simple,” he says. “It’s not that the people were any different. They’re not.”