Thursday, May 13, 2021
May 13, 2021

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Vancouver hopes boardwalk, mixed-use buildings revive state’s gateway

Development would replace Who Song & Larry’s, run-down pier

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
6 Photos
Renderings visualize a proposed development on a 2.3-acre area just east of the Interstate 5 Bridge, the current location of Who Song & Larry's and the former Joe's Crab Shack restaurants. Kirkland Development plans to construct four mixed-use buildings on the site with space for restaurants, retail and apartments, as well as a 309-space underground parking lot and a public boardwalk.
Renderings visualize a proposed development on a 2.3-acre area just east of the Interstate 5 Bridge, the current location of Who Song & Larry's and the former Joe's Crab Shack restaurants. Kirkland Development plans to construct four mixed-use buildings on the site with space for restaurants, retail and apartments, as well as a 309-space underground parking lot and a public boardwalk. (Renderings courtesy of Otak Inc.) Photo Gallery

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 area currently occupied by longtime restaurant Who Song & Larry’s and the former Joe’s Crab Shack.

“This is really the gateway to not only the city of Vancouver, but 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 that they’re seeing as they enter our state and enter our city; and right now, I think we can do a lot better. In fact, 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 told the city council.

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. The pier, originally built in 1991, has been closed to public foot traffic since 2007.

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.

Councilor Erik Paulsen also raised concerns about how the project could impact traffic in the area, citing the I-5 onramp near the property. He asked Vancouver’s streets and transportation manager to study and report on the potential impact of Kirkland’s proposal.

“Just from personal experience, that’s a troublesome intersection at peak hours,” Paulsen said. “This development could potentially exacerbate that.”

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 “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 two institutions

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, Randy Sharpe, CEO of the California-based company that owns Who Song & Larry’s, told The Columbian on Tuesday the restaurant planned to remain in its riverfront location. The California company, Xperience Restaurants, announced a plan to invest around $1 million worth of renovations in the restaurant over the summer.

Who Song & Larry’s lease doesn’t expire until 2040.

“We have a 20-year lease, and we have no intention of leaving,” Sharpe said. “Our intention is to always have an amicable relationship with our landlord.”

Kirkland, which has been deeply involved in the ongoing Waterfront Vancouver project, had been working to purchase and develop the property since 2016. The company announced its plans for a mixed-use development in 2018, billing the proposal as the “Waterfront East” project.

The land still remains under the ownership of a third party, according to Sharpe.

A few prospects are under negotiation, he added. One would see Kirkland tear down the existing Who Song & Larry’s building, and then find a new home for the restaurant in the updated development.

“We’ve had very good conversations with Dean and his group,” Sharpe said. “There’s been a lot of back and forth on both sides. I’d like this to be an amicable one.”

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