Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Dec. 2, 2020

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Vancouver’s Waterfront Gateway may be rebranded Lucky Star District

Proposed name would pay homage to city's history as beer town

By , Columbian staff writer

A few acres of parking lots and grassy fields surrounding Vancouver City Hall could face a bright future, based on an ongoing redevelopment effort that pays homage to the past.

The 6.4 acres of city-owned property — known as the Waterfront Gateway, so named for its strategic location between Vancouver’s historic downtown and new waterfront development — is ripe for a rebranding, said Richard Keller, president of the City Center Redevelopment Authority.

In order to draw developers and create a sense of place, he proposes calling the area the Lucky Star District. It’s a reference to Vancouver’s history as a beer town, when Star Brewing and Lucky Lager served as major economic engines.

Waterfront Gateway doesn’t pack the same punch, Keller said, especially because the property in question doesn’t actually touch the water.

“One concept we’re considering is to call this the Lucky Star District, much like the Pearl District in Portland,” Keller told the city council in a presentation earlier this week. “Developers will be more interested in this if we can create that kind of branded opportunity.”

The Waterfront Gateway property is an odd chunk of land in an odd place. It’s a triangle, bounded by Columbia Street to the east, Sixth Street to the north and BNSF Railway tracks to the south and west.

It’s mostly empty, despite its proximity to downtown. The northeastern corner includes City Hall, the Hilton Vancouver Washington and the attached convention space. At the eastern edge sits the Webber Building, a century-old brick structure that once housed a blacksmith but now serves as an office building. The rest, a strip of land that runs adjacent to the multibillion-dollar Waterfront Vancouver development, is mostly grass.

“I’m not sure there is any other city out there besides Vancouver where City Hall is surrounded by surface parking lots and 6 acres of green fields. I think it’s a generational opportunity for us,” Keller said, adding that redeveloping the space could “move the beating heartbeat, the center of the city, to this area and tie it together with City Hall.”

In 2019, the city passed off the planning effort for the property to the City Center Redevelopment Authority. The group also helped steer the waterfront redevelopment project, as well as a resurgence in Vancouver’s trendy Uptown Village.

The amenities along the waterfront were designed for a wealthy resident in mind, Keller said. Uptown Village, he continued, serves a population looking for more affordable places to live and recreate. What the city is really missing now, he said, is a new neighborhood that serves the middle.

“From a competitive point of view, we have The Waterfront with its $25 cheeseburgers and high-end apartments and condos. I think we’ve got an opportunity to better serve another slice of Vancouver, and that’s the middle class and families,” Keller said.

Recognizing history

From 1880 to 1915, the building at the corner of Sixth and Columbia streets was home to Star Brewing, a prolific West Coast brewery. Its claim to fame was Star Gold, a beer that found exceptional popularity among soldiers in the Spanish-American War.

During Prohibition, Star Brewing converted to a cannery. But in 1933, it returned to its roots, and by 1950, it had been snapped up by a new player: Lucky Lager.

Lucky Lager and its iconic, red ribbon sign towered above downtown Vancouver for 35 years, serving as one of the main employers in the city.

Though Lucky finally closed down in 1985, the legacy of the city as a beer-brewing town continues today, with microbreweries cropping up to provide thirsty Vancouverites with local craft beers.

Calling the area the Lucky Star District pays homage to this rich history, Keller said. In a previous workshop with the City Center Redevelopment Authority, the group pointed to the Microbrewery Museum in Seattle as potential inspiration.

Another important piece of history on the land is the Webber Building. Built in 1909, the building started out as a blacksmith shop, then switched to a machine company when horses fell out of favor as the main mode of transportation. It’s since been converted to an office space, with tenants guaranteed on the lease through 2022.

The city bought the building in 2004 when it thought it might need to knock it down in order to build the convention center. That’s still not out of the question; it’s possible the Webber Building might need to come down to make room for a parking structure, said John Collum, the city’s economic development principal planner.

It’s a prospect that, when floated last year, drew protest from some local history buffs. But the building is ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places and doesn’t meet all of the criteria for the Clark County Historic Registry, Collum said.

“We’re not really proposing that anything happens with the Webber Building at this point in time. It needs to be part of the discussion of the expansion down the road and even possibly with the potential location of where the parking garage could go,” Collum said.