Monday, May 10, 2021
May 10, 2021

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Vancouver council supportive of plan to transform ‘eyesore’ property along I-5 Bridge

Development would turn Who Song & Larry's, Joe's Crab Shack into the 'Renaissance Boardwalk'

By , Columbian staff writer
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The city of Vancouver and real estate company Kirkland Development are hammering out the details of a proposed public boardwalk and mixed-use development on a plot of land directly east of the Interstate 5 Bridge — the 2.3-acre plot currently occupied by longtime local restaurants Who Song & Larry’s and Joe’s Crab Shack.

“This is really the gateway not only to the city of Vancouver, but to the state of Washington,” Vancouver City Councilor Bart Hansen said during a workshop on the project Monday afternoon.

“When travelers are coming over the I-5 Bridge going northbound, this is the first thing they’re seeing when they enter our state and enter our city, and right now I think we can do a lot better. Right now I think it’s a bit of an eyesore.”

The new development would include four buildings with restaurants and retail on the ground floor, up to 220 high-end apartment units above and an underground parking garage with 309 spaces.

According to Chad Eiken, Vancouver’s community and economic development director, the agreement would require Kirkland Development to complete the project in the next decade.

“The developer plans to have this built much sooner than that,” Eiken added.

Kirkland plans to apply for Vancouver’s Multifamily Tax Exemption Program. If the application is accepted, the city would agree to waive the development’s property taxes for eight years in exchange for a project that provides a public benefit. In turn, Kirkland agreed to demolish a wooden city-owned pier along the property that’s fallen into disrepair.

A 15-foot-wide public walkway — called the “Renaissance Boardwalk” in planning documents — would be constructed along the river’s edge as part of the development, connecting the existing waterfront trails to the east and west.

“It needs to feel inviting to someone walking the Renaissance Trail. It shouldn’t induce any kind of claustrophobia,” Councilor Ty Stober said.

Between the four buildings, around 138,000 square feet would be available for retail and restaurants. That’s enough for around seven or eight restaurants, including indoor and outdoor seating, Eiken said.

Councilor Laurie Lebowsky expressed some concern about the kinds of restaurants that would become eventual tenants at the site, pointing to the highly visible nature of the location and cautioning against something like “that restaurant that’s on the Portland side of the bridge.”

“No offense to Hooters, but we’re not going to put Hooters over there. It’ll be very classy, it’ll be inviting to the public,” Kirkland Development CEO Dean Kirkland responded.

Fate of the existing restaurants

If the development agreement moves forward, the buildings that house Who Song & Larry’s and Joe’s Crab Shack will be demolished.

Joe’s Crab Shack announced in May that it would close permanently, citing struggles linked to COVID-19 closures. However, Chris Lankford, senior regional director of the California-based company that owns Who Song & Larry’s, told The Columbian as recently as July that the restaurant planned to remain in its riverfront location.

The California company, Xperience Restaurants, had previously been in conversations with Kirkland Development about the possibility of incorporating the restaurant into their new project, though those talks ultimately fell through.

Kirkland had been working to purchase and develop the property since 2016 and announced its plans for an eventual mixed-use development in 2018.

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