Washington’s stay-at-home order halted all nonessential construction just after the groundwork was completed. The restrictions were gradually lifted in April and May, but Takach said the project faced additional challenges due to lender uncertainty.
Hotels and other hospitality businesses have been among the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, making lenders much more cautious about new hotel projects, Takach said — even projects that were planned before the pandemic.
Emails between Vesta and the port obtained through a public records request show that the company was still working with lenders as of late August and didn’t have a firm start date, although the process was said to be nearly finalized.
Now that work is finally underway, Takach said he’s confident the project will be able to move forward without any further interruptions. The hotel’s tentative opening date is June 1, 2022, he said, and the construction process is expected to take a maximum of 20 months.
Takach said he expects the hotel industry to rebound once a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is developed and the pandemic ends — and he’s hoping that rebound will come right around the time the AC Hotel is finished and ready to open its doors.
“I think it’s a smart move and the right time to be developing a hotel if you can,” he said.
A tower crane will be installed at the site in the next couple of weeks, he said. Crews will also begin digging out the bases of the elevator shafts and preparing to install the foundation pad. Once that’s in place, construction will move to the framework of the building.
The pandemic has created shortages of both materials and skilled labor in the building industry, but Takach said the hotel project has avoided those hurdles so far. Some of its initial supply orders were already locked in, and he said he chose contractor Robertson & Olson to build the project due in part to the company’s large network of subcontractors.
Directly south of the hotel site, fencing has gone up around the western half of the Terminal 1 pier. Full-scale construction work is scheduled to begin next week, according to port spokeswoman Therese Lang.
The near-simultaneous start time for the AC Hotel and Vancouver Landing projects was coincidental, Takach said, but it works out well because it means the pier work should be completed before the hotel opens.
“Even though by the time we’re done, there will be lot of construction around us, at least in our immediate area it will look nice,” he said.
The first phase of the pier project will be all about seismic improvements, adding 20 steel piles and modifying the top deck, according to a press release from the port. In a few weeks, a boat will be brought in with equipment to drill into the riverbank to remove the old pilings, Lang said.
Further work next year will add public seating areas and underground utility infrastructure. The finished Vancouver Landing will include a walkway connecting it to the Columbia River Waterfront Renaissance Trail, funded in part by a $500,000 grant from Vancouver Rotary Foundation.
The eastern half of the pier is slated to be torn down and rebuilt after the former Red Lion at the Quay building is removed, but the western half was judged to be in better condition and only needed renovation and seismic strengthening.
The upgrades have proven to be more complex than anticipated, however — and more expensive. Emails obtained through a public records request show that earlier this year the port sought and received permission from the state Department of Commerce and the Legislature to allocate more funding for the Vancouver Landing seismic work.
The additional money comes from funding that was initially allocated for the East Portal project, a planned stormwater facility at the eastern end of the Terminal 1 site.
Washington’s 2019 capital budget included a $4.7 million allocation for the two projects. Nearly all of the East Portal portion of the money — about $2.8 million — has been moved over to Vancouver Landing, Lang said, except for about $100,000 that was retained for geotechnical and environmental work.
The change means that the East Portal project will be delayed, but the port has committed to getting it done and will come up with the necessary funding on its own when the time comes, Lang said.
The emails cite the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program as another reason to delay the East Portal work. The joint Oregon-Washington project is in the early stages of planning a new bridge to replace the existing Interstate 5 crossing, which passes directly east of Terminal 1.
A new bridge is still far from assured, but Lang said the port is being mindful of the possible footprint of a new bridge and is keen to avoid a scenario where part of the newly redeveloped Terminal 1 has to be altered to make room.
According to the emails, the port learned in discussions with the Washington State Department of Transportation earlier this year that the bridge footprint could overlap with the East Portal site, so it made sense to delay the stormwater project until port officials have a clearer idea of whether the new bridge will be built and what it will look like.
The East Portal project isn’t a prerequisite for any other parts of the Terminal 1 redevelopment, Lang said, so it could end up being one of the last pieces to be finished.