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Saturday, March 2, 2024
March 2, 2024

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In Our View: Value of past weighed against needs of future

The Columbian

The news of the past week provides a stroll through the past on a journey toward the future. An inordinate number of articles from Clark County serve as links to the region’s history while representing the direction we are headed.

First, there was word that a 113-acre industrial property along the Columbia River has sold for $96 million. The sale at the Columbia Business Center reportedly is the most expensive transaction for industrial land in the Vancouver-Portland market.

“This sale represents the rare opportunity to own an industrial site of scale in a market with a dearth of developable land,” said Nick Kucha, vice chairman of Newmark, a real estate group.

According to Columbian reporter Sarah Wolf: “The Columbia Business Center is a mix of old and new buildings. Some date to World War II, when the location was home to the Kaiser shipyard.”

Therein lies the link to the past. During World War II, Vancouver’s shipyard produced 141 vessels of varying types as part of the nation’s war effort. Shifts worked around the clock, and the shipyard had 38,000 employees at its peak.

Not only did those workers construct ships, but they laid the foundation for modern Vancouver. The city’s population grew from less than 19,000 in 1940 to more than 41,000 by 1950.

Now, the site of the former shipyard — which is more than 200 acres overall — is an industrial park with access to rail lines, Highway 14 and the Columbia River. Few details have been revealed about the buyer or the future of the area, which includes more than 100 tenants.

The hope is that there will be little change in operations for tenants. Heavy industry is an important part of a well-balanced economy that fosters growth and is a hedge against economic downturns.

But that wasn’t the only news that hearkened to Clark County’s history. Officials signaled progress in planning for the 78th Street Heritage Farm.

In 2020, the Clark County Council directed staff to develop a plan for improving financial sustainability and increasing public access at the farm. Newly revealed parameters for that plan do not include reducing current agricultural practices or selling any of the 79-acre site.

Possible alternatives involve making small changes, allowing a nonprofit to operate the farm, or an “amalgamation of stakeholder objectives.” We would expect that more concrete plans could be formulated over four years, but it is encouraging that selling the land does not appear to be an option.

The history of the 78th Street Heritage Farm as a public entity dates to the 1870s, when it was established as a poor farm. It served that purpose until 1943, and the Clark County website explains, “The site is locally significant because of its association with social welfare and early 20th century poor farm relief programs,” which were “largely discontinued after Social Security was set up during the Roosevelt administration.”

Decades later, having a sizable functioning urban farm, surrounded by development and traffic, is a benefit to Clark County.

Meanwhile, to top off a week of impending change, another Vancouver icon — Burgerville — has announced plans to open six new outlets across the Northwest, the company’s first expansion in eight years.

Progress can be difficult, as communities weigh the value of the past against the needs of the future. But perhaps decision-makers can ponder the fate of the Columbia Business Center and the 78th Street Heritage Farm over a hamburger and a milkshake.