Tuesday, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021

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Downtown Vancouver is on the rise

Vancouver construction continues at dizzying pace despite virus delays

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
8 Photos
The AC Hotel by Marriott, the first project to begin development at Terminal 1, sits in the shadow of the Hotel Indigo and Kirkland Tower, one of several projects underway at The Waterfront Vancouver.
The AC Hotel by Marriott, the first project to begin development at Terminal 1, sits in the shadow of the Hotel Indigo and Kirkland Tower, one of several projects underway at The Waterfront Vancouver. (Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Despite numerous impacts up and down the construction pipeline — everything from skyrocketing material prices to widespread labor shortages — the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t constrained the amount of development in downtown Vancouver.

The city is in the midst of an unprecedented construction boom, with seven major projects underway or recently completed and many more waiting in the wings. The past decade has seen a consistent ramp-up in construction activity as the economy moved past the recession, and the current crop of projects is larger than at any prior point.

“We’re on track to have twice as many (residential) units come online as have been built since 2007, which is pretty amazing,” said Vancouver economic development director Chad Eiken. “We’ve never seen this level of activity in the downtown.”

The Waterfront Vancouver has been the main focal point of development in downtown Vancouver in the past few years, but it only accounts for two of the projects currently under construction — aside from one at the Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 1 redevelopment site, the remainder are all on the north side of the BNSF Railway tracks.

The vast majority of the square footage under construction is slated to become residential space, along with a mix of office and hotel uses. That’s good news, according to Eiken, because it means the city is on track to meet a goal set in the 2007 Vancouver City Center Vision plan: add at least 4,551 new multifamily units to the downtown core by 2027.

The city’s permitting process has four main stages: pre-application, land use review, building permit review and then, once the permit has been issued, construction. There are currently four projects in the pre-application phase, totaling 484 units, plus three in the land use stage with a total of 507 units.

Four more projects are in building review, with a combined 457 units, and 11 projects are actively under construction or have permits issued. That’s 2,339 units in the pipeline for the next couple of years on top of 949 units that have already been built downtown since the adoption of the 2007 plan, Eiken said, in total representing about 75 percent of the target for 2027.

Commercial development is also showing signs of increased growth, Eiken noted. The city has only added a few major office buildings since the recession, he said — the Hudson Building, Hurley Tower and the Murdock building at the Waterfront — but several projects currently in the pipeline will probably double or triple the amount of new office space added in the post-recession era.

The city doesn’t have a hard target for office development like it does for residential, Eiken said, but it all serves the same goal.

“A lot of it is more in the intangible area of adding vitality to the downtown,” he said. “By bringing more residents to the downtown as well as workers, there’s more support for the local businesses, and as we know, the more rooftops we get in the downtown, the more likely it is that we’ll get a grocery store, so it’s really important that we get income levels up but also the number of units in the downtown.”

Current projects

The current wave of downtown Vancouver development hasn’t crested yet. Here’s a smattering of additional projects that have been previously announced or are in the planning stages:

Office building on Block 2 of The Waterfront Vancouver, from Gramor Development.

Apartment building on Block 3 of The Waterfront Vancouver, from Summit Development Group.

Parking garage on Block 7 of The Waterfront Vancouver, from Gramor Development.

Apartment building on Block 17 of The Waterfront Vancouver, from Alliance Residential.

Senior housing on Block 18 of The Waterfront Vancouver, from The Springs Living.

Kirkland Premier Storage, a self-storage facility at 900 W. Seventh Street, from Kirkland Development.

Terminal 1: The Port of Vancouver’s plan calls for mixed-use buildings on Blocks A, B and C, and a public market building atop a rebuilt pier.

Waterfront East, a mixed-use project from Kirkland Development that would replace the two restaurant buildings east of the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Hyatt-affiliated hotel at Columbia and West Fourth Streets, from Hurley Development.

Apartment building at West 16th Street and Washington Street, from Hurley Development.

The Aegis, a two-phase mixed-use project from Marathon Acquisition and Development, in partnership with The Historic Trust, on portions of the Providence Academy campus.

Other benefits include additional tax revenue for the city and hopefully a more walkable downtown where people can live near where they work, he said.

The pandemic did lead to a brief dip in construction activity during the initial shutdown months, Eiken said, but it didn’t slow down the long-term pace. Coincidentally, the city had recently completed a shift to an all-online permitting and plan review system, which allowed the planning and review side of things to keep moving at full speed.

Despite the size of the current construction boom, Eiken said Vancouver still likely hasn’t reached the peak of the wave. The number of major downtown projects in the planning stages is still greater than the number that are actively underway.

“It’s kind of staggering how much will be under construction,” Eiken said. “It looks busy now, but there are so many more projects in the queue that will be coming online in the next year or so.”

Here are the projects that are actively under construction, or very recently completed:

Hotel Indigo and Kirkland Tower

Location: 550 Waterfront Way

Developer: Kirkland Development

Cost: $108 million

Groundbreaking: June 2018

Estimated completion: Unknown

This is the longest-running project on the list, and it’s also among the biggest. The 12-story Kirkland Tower condo building is the tallest structure in the Waterfront district and is being built alongside the eight-story boutique Hotel Indigo, both of which sit atop a shared underground parking garage.

The tower and much of the hotel share a distinctive blue-tinted glass exterior “curtain wall” system, most of which is already in place. The tower will feature 40 luxury condo units and a ground-floor wine bar from Oregon-based Naked Winery. The hotel is planned to have 138 rooms and the ground level will be home to a new branch of upscale northwest steak house El Gaucho.

The project’s website lists a March 2021 completion date, although complications from the COVID-19 pandemic appear to have impacted the building’s progress.

The Columbia

Location: Block 20, The Waterfront Vancouver

Developer: Jackson Square Properties

Cost: $43 million

Groundbreaking: October 2019

Estimated completion: Summer 2021

The seven-story apartment tower at the west end of The Waterfront Vancouver comes from California-based Jackson Square Properties in partnership with Blue Pine Construction. The project will feature 248 units, a two-story underground parking garage, residential amenities on the ground floor and a second-floor rooftop infinity pool that will overlook the Columbia River.

Unlike the first round of apartment buildings at the Waterfront, The Columbia will have no ground-floor retail. That’s in keeping with the overall vision of the district, which calls for mostly residential uses on the western blocks.

AC Hotel by Marriott

Location: 333 W. Columbia Way

Developer: Vesta Hospitality

Cost: $50 million

Groundbreaking: August 2019

Estimated completion: Spring 2022

The AC Hotel by Marriott was the first project to get underway at the Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 1 redevelopment site, which is slated to eventually feature multiple mixed-use buildings and a public marketplace. The seven-story hotel will feature 150 guest rooms and 4,000 square feet of meeting space and an interior parking garage hidden on the building’s second and third floors.

The project began with an extensive preparation phase that involved replacing more than 700 wooden pilings dating back to when the site hosted the WWI-era Standifer Shipyard. Another Terminal 1 project called Vancouver Landing — a renovation of the western half of the riverfront pier – is also underway immediately south of the AC Hotel site.

The Aria

Location: 636 West Sixth St.

Developer: Cascadia Development Partners

Cost: $38 million

Groundbreaking: September 2019

Estimated completion: March 2021

The six-story apartment tower is located directly west of the Esther Short Building, which serves as the headquarters for Aria builder Cascadia Development Partners.

The building will include 122 apartment units and five ground-floor townhouse-style units, as well as 128 parking spaces and a 6,000-square foot courtyard to separate it from the Esther Short Building.

Company president David Copenhaver told The Columbian in 2019 that townhomes were chosen in lieu of ground-floor retail because of the site’s location at the western end of downtown.

The building’s name can be translated from Latin as “park,” a reference to the nearby Esther Short Park.

Angelo Tower

Location: 330 Mill Plain Blvd.

Developer: Al Angelo Co.

Cost: $45 million

Groundbreaking: January 2020

Estimated Completion: July 2021

The Angelo Tower is a multi-use project from Vancouver-based Al Angelo Co., a short distance west of an existing office tower at 400 Mill Plain Blvd. that serves as the company’s headquarters. The new building’s size and exterior cladding are designed to complement the original.

The six-story building will include office space, 25,000 square feet of commercial space and 44 luxury apartments on the upper floors, with a parking garage on the lower levels. The block between Mill Plain Boulevard and 15th Street was previously home to two strip malls, which were demolished in August 2019.

Block 10

Location: Block 10, downtown Vancouver

Developer: Holland Partner Group

Cost: $42 million

Groundbreaking: July 2020

Estimated completion: 2022

The mixed-use project under construction on Block 10 is the culmination of a decades-long quest to redevelop the last of the five “Brewery Blocks” that the city of Vancouver purchased in the 1990s. The other blocks became Heritage Place and Vancouvercenter, but Block 10 languished through several false starts until the city finally struck a deal with Holland Partner Group in 2019.

The building will consist of a two-story base level that spans the entire block, then splits into a 110-unit residential tower and a 79,000-square-foot office tower, each of which will rise an additional four stories. The base level will include ground-floor retail and above-ground parking. Holland is developing the project in partnership with Virginia-based EJF Capital.

Coen

Location: 601 Columbia St.

Developer: Holland Partner Group

Cost: $10 million (building)

Groundbreaking: August 2000 (foundation), June 2019 (building)

Completed: December 2020

Before it was Coen, it was unofficially called the fourth tower. The building sits on the southeastern quadrant of the two-block Vancouvercenter site, which entered development in 2000 with plans for four towers atop a city-owned underground parking garage.

The garage and the first three towers materialized, but the fourth floundered, and the southeast quadrant was eventually capped off at ground level. It stayed that way until Holland Partner Group purchased the development rights from original builder Vandevco for $14.75 million in 2018.

The six-story building includes 118 apartments and 2,200 square feet of ground-floor retail. Holland announced in November that it had partnered with EJF Capital on a $62.5 million deal to acquire the new tower and the adjacent southwest quadrant building, rechristening them Coen and Columbia.

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