While real estate struggles in many downtown corridors around the county, downtown Camas is experiencing a flux of activity.
There are only a handful of vacant retail spaces on Downtown’s main street, Fourth Avenue, and two major property sales closed there recently.
Journey Community Church recently bought the 10,330-square-foot Columbia River Bar and Grill building at 304 N.E. Fourth Ave. It will be renovated into a worship space for the congregation that has gathered at Skyridge Middle School in Camas for several years.
The church bought the building for $710,000 from RVR Investments LLC.
A block away, Karen and Tom Hall bought the three-story, 10,330-square-foot Camas Hotel, 405 N.E. Fourth Ave., for $700,000, according to county records, and are in the midst of renovating the 1910 building to recapture its original charm with modern amenities.
The hotel is the oldest commercial building in Camas, said Karen Hall, and was built with teeny rooms and common bathrooms. The second floor is under construction now, and when finished, it will have 10 rooms, each with private bathrooms, and a rooftop patio.
The Halls also are renovating a small cafe space in the building where Andes Treasures was located, and where they hope to attract a Euro-style bistro.
They aim to keep the building’s architecture consistent with that of downtown, and are striving to achieve historical significance.
Tom Hall is a general contractor by trade, and Karen Hall has a background in marketing and travel. Their son, Portland real estate agent Milan Cole, discovered the working hotel while they were still living in Ojai, Calif.
“We’re empty nesters, and were looking for an adventure,” said Karen Hall. “When we saw the building, we were unsure, but we fell in love with Camas and it has potential.”
The couple will have spent several hundred thousand dollars renovating the first phase of the project, which includes the building exterior, lobby, second floor, rooftop deck, café and café kitchen. Construction is expected to wrap up in May.
The second phase will bring 10 more rooms to the third floor, where some residents are staying while construction is under way on the second.
“It is an old building, so it comes with all of the unknowns,” said Tom Hall. “But it is a very nice little place to put together, and we think it will have a nice impact.”
The Halls have made an effort to connect other downtown businesses to the hotel. Karen Hall quickly became active with the Downtown Vision Coalition, joining its board, and Carma for Design is handling the interior design, specialty lighting will likely come from Chateau Lauren Interiors and other touches like chocolates or soaps may come from other shops.
“Working with other shops makes it a community effort,” said Karen Hall.
She also is looking to partner with spas to offer discount vacation packages.
“The merchants are committed to putting the city on the map,” said Karen Hall. “They are encouraging development in the right way. We’re excited to be part of the change.”
A changing landscape
The DVC, which is currently funded by the city and is made up of merchants and members of the public, has been busy defining where downtown’s development is headed.
The coalition is working on a master plan and a comprehensive marketing plan to establish a long-term vision and help with business recruitment, said Carrie Schulstad, owner of The Uncommon Gift and vice president of the DVC.
Meanwhile, the coalition has become part of the Main Street Program, and has incorportated as a foundation to expand its funding but has not established nonprofit status. It also has been busy promoting buying local in an “I Found it in Camas” campaign.
The posters, found in shop windows, list 10 reasons to shop and do business locally, including strengthening the local economy, preserving the character of the community and providing more local employment opportunities.
“We have to band together,” Schulstad said.
The last year has been hard for some longtime merchants, forcing them to leave the market.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Schulstad said. “Some of the businesses that have come in are not the same caliber, but those spaces are full.”
Many merchants struggled with Journey Community Church buying the large downtown building. Schulstad said a brewpub also looked at buying the space, and many felt a pub would have been a boon for downtown nightlife.
“It was hard for a lot of merchants because it could have been creating commerce,” Schulstad said. “But it’s a done deal, and we’re doing our best to be positive.”
A representative of the church was not available for comment, but Mike Lamb of Windermere Real Estate Stellar Group, who represented the church in the sale, said he suspects the church was looking for an opportunity to be where nobody else was. The large space and ample parking were appealing, he added.
The renovations are consistent with the other efforts downtown. In the last five years, Susanne Schultz of Chateau Lauren Interiors has seen landlords upgrading buildings and storeowners beautifying window displays.
“This is a boutique town,” she said. “You have to know how to merchandise. … Things are picking up here.”
Affordable lease rates are especially attractive, Schultz added.
JoAnn Taylor and her brothers bought the building where their shop, Camas Antiques, is located six years ago. They renovated the shop space at 305 N.E. Fourth Ave. and eight upstairs apartments (which hadn’t been rented since 1970).
“I’m banking my own money on this area,” Taylor said, adding that the supportive group of downtown merchants makes it a particularly appealing to own a specialty store.
“Camas has something you can’t build – a town either has it or it doesn’t,” Schultz said.
MAPPING DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT
Last September, the City of Camas adopted a set of design standards for the downtown commercial area – generally from Adams Street on the west, Sixth Avenue to the north, Hayes Street to the east and Second Avenue to the south.
The plan was developed by the city and downtown business owners to provide general requirements geared toward businesses considering renovation, expansion or new site development.
The plan aims to enhance livability and environmental quality by encouraging mixed-use development and economic development in the area to create an atmosphere that attracts broad and diversified consumers and businesses to the downtown core.
The development standards, which include streetscaping, lighting and architectural standards, apply to public and private spaces for new uses, changes of use and expansions. Interior remodeling is exempt.
The city has explored the expansion of several downtown blocks, but Fourth Avenue needs more growth before expansion occurs to other areas, said Carrie Schulstad, owner of The Uncommon Gift and vice president of the Downtown Vision Coalition.
Now there are plans in the works to create a central gathering place, likely between the library and City Hall.
Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.