A Growing Trend

Development is all around us – you just have to know where to look

Vancouver and Southwest Washington continue to serve as the growth corridor for the Portland metropolitan area, current economic conditions notwithstanding.

The geography remains the same- one community separated by a river with different political environments, taxes and legal systems on each side. Two bridges connect the sides, each carrying about 130,000 cars per day. Roughly half of that traffic is commuter traffic – a balance of freight and through-city travel.

In downtown Vancouver, development has slowed with the economy. Nevertheless, a striking new $30 million library is taking shape at the corner of Evergreen and C Streets, serving as the anchor for Killian Pacific's mixed-use project on its seven-acre site.

At the Mill Plain entrance to downtown, the Al Angelo Company has completed its beautiful new six-story office building. A brick and glass structure, it houses the real estate development firm's executive offices and serves as the local headquarters for Columbia Bank, which is making a strong foray into Southwest Washington. The Angelos say this building is phase one of two buildings designed for the site.

After years of searching for a new City Hall site, the City of Vancouver recently purchased the Columbian Building out of foreclosure from Bank of America. The 110,000-square-foot, six-story building has about 70,000-square-feet available for the City as it consolidates from three locations. This move is viewed as good for the community, as it is economical, efficient, and places the City at what promises to be the new center of downtown.

Work continues near the new City Hall on the entrances to the Gramor waterfront project, located on the 32-acre former Boise Cascade property, on the Columbia River just west of the I-5 Bridge. The developer has plans for a multi-year development of office, residential, retail and hospitality uses. The project will be transformational for Vancouver as it will bring a high quality work-live-play development to the city, unique in its streetscape, design and density. Timing is the only question today, as the financing environment for a development of this scale is problematic.

On the industrial front, most of the local action has revolved around the Port of Vancouver. The Port is developing the former Vanalco aluminum plant property, along with property acquired for port expansion as Columbia Gateway. The Port sold 20 acres to Farwest Steel, a steel fabricator relocating from Eugene, and construction is slated to start soon.

The new Ridgefield interchange at I-5 promises to improve access to commercial and industrial properties available there. Southwest Washington Medical Center is working on a plan for its 75-acre site on the northeast corner of that intersection.

The retail scene remains dominated by the big box phenomenon. Costco and Wal-Mart continue to work on new sites to serve the area, while Fred Meyer and Winco have recently added stores or replaced older facilities. The idea that Washingtonians will continue to drive to Oregon to make major retail purchases seems to be old thinking, especially in light of high-priced gasoline and increased congestion.

The new I-5 bridge design and implementation continues to dominate conversation and politics in Vancouver. Whatever the cost, once completed it will greatly improve the lives of residents and businesses on both sides. The new bridge will provide the efficiencies in movement of people and materials that are so important going forward.

H. Roger Qualman manages the Vancouver office of NAI Norris Beggs and Simpson, where he is also an executive vice president and shareholder. He can be reached at rqualman@nai-nbs.com