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March 31, 2023

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Vancouver City Council studies proposed Waterfront Gateway Project

Proposal would see four buildings mixing residential, retail, office, linking to areas along waterfront

By , Columbian Innovation Editor
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The City of Vancouver's Waterfront Gateway development with four new buildings aims to be its own district and also connect Esther Short Park to The Waterfront Vancouver.
The City of Vancouver's Waterfront Gateway development with four new buildings aims to be its own district and also connect Esther Short Park to The Waterfront Vancouver. (Renderings by Otak Architects Inc.) Photo Gallery

The parking lots and grass fields around Vancouver City Hall are going to drastically change into four buildings with 420 new apartments — including 100 in the “affordable” category — office space, retail and parking structures.

New plans released by the city on Monday for the Vancouver Waterfront Gateway project envision a new district connecting Esther Short Park to The Waterfront Vancouver and Terminal 1 developments. Intricate lighting strung between buildings, a tower with light features, plazas, a cross-laminated-timber office building and a large amount of street-level retail are all features of the new development.

All buildings will be built at the same time, according to Patrick Quinton, executive director of Vancouver’s City Center Redevelopment Authority. The city said the project could break ground by the end of 2023.

One option under consideration is for the city to tear down the Weber Building and expand the Vancouver Convention Center to the south. If that comes to fruition, the city will consider building a footbridge over the BNSF Railway tracks to connect to The Waterfront Vancouver buildings, Quinton said.

All of the buildings’ functions and sizes are close to what will be the final product, but there is still plenty to consider with how the development looks and feels.

The affordable apartment units will be built on the northwest corner of the lot with 100 units for residents making 60 percent of the area’s median income. Area median income shifts depending on income statistics, but as of April 18, 60 percent of area median income was $1,198 per month.

To the east of that, the city plans to construct a building for 100 market-rate apartments.

The planned office building, which holds 160,000 square feet of space, will be made of cross-laminated timber, a cutting-edge technique that uses treated timber bonded together to replace the steel and concrete elements of the building. The new McLoughlin Middle School and George C. Marshall Elementary School are two building projects in Vancouver that are made of cross-laminated timber.

“It will give the building a nice distinct new look,” Quinton said. “It could allow for more height if we want it.”

Just south of City Hall, plans show three mixed-use residential buildings with mostly ground-floor retail and a public plaza. It also shows an artistic tower structure that will be planned further in the process.

The planned Waterfront Gateway project includes 545 parking spaces in two structures either underground or in the podium levels of the buildings. That also includes parking for City Hall’s workers and guests.

About 50 percent of the development site is publicly accessible, with access to plazas and retail spots as a sort of “shopping center,” according to project manager John Collum.

The Vancouver City Council saw the site plan at Monday night’s council meeting with mostly positive feedback.

City Council Ty Stober said he wanted food carts to be part of the development’s scene because it draws more people to the area.

“It’s great to see this project moving forward,” he said.

Plans show a web of string lighting, powered by solar panels, that connects the buildings to bring brightness to the development.

“The lantern and lighting has become an inspiration for this project,” said Collum.

Councilor Sarah Fox said that she was concerned that some of the retail spots that aren’t next to the street might not be able to be supported by foot traffic alone.

“Location is such a such a big factor to success,” she said.

Quinton said that the businesses will invite people to walk down the alley — part of the strategy from developer LPC West, which has experience in similar areas.

“I think this is really exciting, especially the walkability,” said Councilor Kim Harless.

Financing the work

The city selected LPC West as the developer for the project in October of last year. Portland-based PLACE is the landscaping architect chosen for the project, and Colas Construction Inc. is the general contractor and affordable housing specialist.

LPC West is responsible for the entire project, including securing financing for the project, according to Quinton. He said the city is not privy to details about LPC West’s financing decisions,

Quinton said the city will negotiate a sale price for the two parcels with LPC West, with any contribution from the city to the project reflected in the price it negotiates.

In fall, the City Center Redevelopment Authority board will review the legal conditions for the developers to use the land, and the Vancouver City Council will vote on it.

“This is going to fill it in the area,” said Quinton. “We want to create a unique district to attract a lot of people to downtown but also make people feel like it’s one continuous downtown experience.”

Note: This story has been changed to clarify information about financing for the project.