It’s been a long and at times arduously slow road for Our Heroes Place, but the pair of five-story apartment buildings at 409 E. Mill Plain Blvd. are finally complete — or at least, very close — and ready to join the growing lineup of housing options downtown Vancouver.
The two buildings are named “Ed” and “Dollie” in honor of the late philanthropists Ed and Dollie Lynch. The project from Vancouver-based Prestige Development broke ground in February 2017 with the tentative goal of wrapping up in May 2018, but a series of setbacks ended up more than doubling the length of the development timeline.
Nearly three years later, the Ed building is complete and the Dollie building is on track to be finished by the end of January. Prestige Development will unveil a sculpture on the west side of the block in a ceremony at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, followed by a ribbon cutting for the Ed building and an open house.
Prestige Development president and CEO Elie Kassab said it’s gratifying to finally cross the finish line. The finished project hews very close to the vision outlined at the start of construction, and it’s a concept that he said will be worth the wait.
“It feels really good, a huge amount of relief,” he said.
The two buildings have a combined 49 apartment units, and the Ed building on the north side of the block includes 3,400 square feet of ground-floor retail space and a drive-thru window for a future business tenant.
The Ed building includes studios and one-bedroom units, while the Dollie building has units that range from one to three bedrooms, along with three penthouse units. The Dollie building’s lower floors include a garage with 42 off-street parking spaces, and both buildings include an exercise room.
Prices at the Ed building range from $1,150 to $1,250 per month for studios and $1,300 to $1,880 for one-bedroom units, Kassab said. A monthly cost of $1,880 will be the starting price for one-bedroom units in the Dollie building, although most of its units are two- or three-bedroom with prices ranging up to $2,650. The 3,000-square-foot penthouse units are expected to cost around $7,000 a month.
The two buildings share an external design that emphasizes red brickwork, similar to the design used in Prestige Plaza, an adjacent apartment project from Prestige Development. Kassab said the color scheme was the Lynches’ idea, inspired by the architecture of the nearby Providence Academy.
“Ed and Dollie were good friends of ours, and they really liked the colors of Prestige Plaza, which mirrored the Academy,” he said. “We tried to stay with that here, too.”
Despite the protracted development time, very few details about the project changed from the announcement to the endpoint. The original plan called for the Dollie building’s units to be condos, but Washington state’s notoriously tough condo insurance laws ended up prompting a change to apartments. The units will still have condo-quality finishes, Kassab said, allowing for a possible conversion in the future.
There’s another distinction between the two buildings: the Ed building is fully furnished, with everything from linens and dishes to artwork on the walls. Kassab said the goal is to attract tenants who want to move in quickly with minimal fuss. That could mean business executives, downtown workers, Clark College students, or Millennial renters who are moving into their own apartments for the first time.
“(The furnishings) are not all the same,” Kassab said. “It’s not like a hotel; every room has its own personality.”
Long construction process
Plans for Our Heroes Place were originally announced in January 2016. The permitting process went smoothly, Kassab said, but challenges emerged once construction was underway.
The construction phase was hit by a number of delays, culminating in a decision to switch out the project’s general contractor in the fall of 2018, at a point when Kassab described the project as approximately 50 percent complete.
Work on the project had ground to a halt for more than three months during the summer of 2018 due to what Kassab described at the time as the original contractor’s struggle to line up the necessary labor.
Work resumed in October 2018 with the new planned completion date of May 2019. But several months before the deadline, Kassab said, it became clear that the project would once again miss its target. Work was still progressing, but it had slowed to a crawl because the same fundamental problem persisted: the necessary labor simply wasn’t available.
“You just can’t get enough people to work on any trade,” Kassab said.
Kassab said he’d never encountered labor scarcity to the same degree on any prior project. A few specific contractors proved exceptionally difficult to line up, he said; fire sprinkler installation technicians were the foremost example.
The labor shortage has been hitting the entire construction industry, not just in Clark County but nationally. One of the biggest causes cited by Kassab and other developers is a generational shift in the industry — an increasing number of older workers are retiring, and too few new workers have been entering the trades to replace them.
Other factors can exacerbate the workforce shortage, particularly changes in the weather. Natural disasters in other parts of the country have a major impact on construction, Kassab said, and the United States is enduring an unprecedented spate of wildfires and hurricanes.
“We haven’t seen this type of damage in many years,” he said.
The fires and floods lead to large-scale home rebuilding efforts, Kassab said, which in turn causes a nationwide spike in demand for every component — lumber, sheet rock, wiring, light fixtures — as well as the tradespeople to install them, stretching an already thin trades workforce even further.
At this point, Kassab said, the delays Our Heroes Place encountered can be expected to happen on nearly every major construction project.
“If somebody is telling you, ‘Oh no, we’re not delayed,’ they’re lying to you,” he said.
Even the trade war had an indirect impact, Kassab said, forcing Prestige to switch from granite countertops from China to a more expensive local alternative.
The final project price tag came in at about $22.5 million, Kassab said, which was about 15 percent higher than originally projected.
With the project wrapping up, Kassab said the only real lesson to take away from the delay is that labor shortages are now a constant reality, and it’s something all developers are going to have to be prepared to deal with.
“People who want to get a project finished, they just have to stay with it,” he said.