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Aug. 18, 2022

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Expansion of Vancouver Convention Center studied

Consultants hired by city present two scenarios for downtown facility

By , Columbian staff writer
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The city of Vancouver is considering reserving land to expand the Vancouver Convention Center to make it cohesive with the adjacent Waterfront Gateway developments. Consultant firm Conventions, Sports and Leisure International presented findings from its feasibility study to staff Thursday.
The city of Vancouver is considering reserving land to expand the Vancouver Convention Center to make it cohesive with the adjacent Waterfront Gateway developments. Consultant firm Conventions, Sports and Leisure International presented findings from its feasibility study to staff Thursday. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As the future development of the Waterfront Gateway is under consideration, Vancouver city staff are entertaining the expansion of the Vancouver Convention Center to synergize with the master plan.

The city-owned property surrounding the building has been viewed as a primary connector between downtown and the nearby Waterfront Vancouver and Terminal 1 developments. John Collum, Vancouver’s economic development principal planner, said the city hired consultants to determine what land should be reserved for the convention center’s plausible expansion.

It’s a necessary step in adding cohesion to the Waterfront Gateway master plan.

“We’re only taking it one step at a time,” he said. “It will require more discussion down the road.”

The center, which is integrated into and managed by the Hilton Vancouver Washington, may expand its 30,300 square feet of meeting and event spaces up to either 64,800 or 81,800 square feet — depending on the city’s favored scenario.

A preliminary feasibility study from consultant company Conventions, Sports and Leisure International provided two development ideas that would add to the southern end of the building and extend to Phil Arnold Way. Both require a considerable amount of land — specifically, 1.5 acres of the overall 6.4-acre Waterfront Gateway site.

The potential development space consists of parking spaces and Vancouver’s century-old Webber Building. The historic brick structure’s fate isn’t sealed, though, as further studies need to be conducted to determine whether it can be incorporated into the development, Collum said.

Draft details

In each scenario, the center’s total sellable space — exhibit, ballroom, meeting and outdoor areas — would expand. Design options should reflect notable trends that emerged from the pandemic, consultant Tyler Othen said; this includes tailoring spaces to hold virtual and live hybrid events, a dedicated outdoor plaza and on-demand micro meeting nooks.

What distinguishes one option from the other is whether it would gain more hotel rooms and parking spaces, as well as a new event room.

Consultant Bill Krueger said the first “market supportable” draft plan increases the Hilton’s hotel room inventory from 226 to 326 rooms and adds 200 parking spaces to accommodate the expansion. This plan also includes space for a flex event room.

The second draft plan outlines a smaller expansion, does not increase hotel room inventory and only adds 100 parking spaces.

The market supportable expansion is estimated to cost $164,182,989, or $615 per square foot; the reduced option would cost $94,820,637, or $574 per square foot. Prices were crafted based on current dollar values but include anticipated inflation through 2028.

Kicking off the study

In the years before the pandemic, the Vancouver Convention Center had an increase in visitors and overall operations. Collum said this led the city to authorize a study in 2021 to determine whether a facility expansion would be beneficial.

Othen said this steady progress coincides with broader market demands, and a facility expansion could be lucrative for the city.

Regional competition includes ilani’s 30,000-square-foot convention center and various venues in Portland, such as the Oregon Convention Center, Lloyd Center and Holiday Inn on the Columbia Riverfront.

“We’re undersized,” he said. “When looking at how large and how growing of a market we are, a larger convention product may be needed in the near term.”

The firm completed more than 115 interviews with event planners and groups representing a variety of events, spanning from trade shows to amateur sporting tournaments. They concluded that both national and state event planner demand is high, suggesting there is untapped potential for the Vancouver Convention Center, Krueger said.

Vancouver’s Downtown Redevelopment Authority and City Center Redevelopment Authority board members are tasked with digesting the recommended models to consider the viability of developing upon the center.

There is no requested immediate action to adopt a plan, and a timeline for expansion decisions is unknown.

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