Retail at the crossroads

Columbia Crossing may improve Clark County’s retail sales if some newcomers’ entrances prove worth the risk

There is a lot of buzz surrounding the completion of Columbia Crossing, the largest retail component of east Vancouver’s Columbia Tech Center development. The opening of Kohl’s in April represented the first piece of the retail development.

"It is the most significant retail development in Clark County since the Vancouver Mall was built in 1978," said Deborah Ewing, vice president with Eric Fuller and Associates. "In square footage and tenant mix, nothing else comes close to the magnitude."

Columbia Crossing is not the only retail development in the more than 400-acre master planned Columbia Tech Center. Wal-Mart and Home Depot already occupy more than 30 acres in the northeast corner of the development along 192nd Avenue. Additionally, another nearly 30-acre portion of land south of the big boxes is set aside for future retail development.

Thirty percent of the completed Columbia Tech Center is expected to be retail. Class A office space will make up 40 percent of the development and light industrial/flex space will make up the rest.

"From the very onset we felt it was important to include mixed uses," said Steven Madison, who co-owns the development with Jeff Gordon and developer PacTrust.

Extensive landscaping, plaza seating and a park-like setting will be integrated into the design to make Columbia Crossing an attractive shopping and dining destination. All aspects of the development are interconnected by a trail system.

"We have tried to build a master planned development that emphasizes connectivity," said Madison, "so residents and business people do not have to drive to get services."

Columbia Crossing proper includes about 205,000 square feet of retail space in six buildings. It’s designed to serve as the entrance to Columbia Tech Center from the west on the corner of Mill Plain Boulevard and 164th Avenue. From east to west along Mill Plain, the project begins with Kohl’s and Cost Plus World Market’s stand-alone buildings. A single building with several retailers, each with its own unique façade, rounds out the corner. And a stand-alone restaurant and two dining locations in another building extend along 164th Avenue. A Bank of America location is the final Columbia Crossing building.

While the retailers are the ones making the decision to choose a development, said Peter Bechen, president of PacTrust, it was important to have a mix of tenants that fit well together.

"We wanted high-quality, successful retailers where customers will cross-shop," he said.

The development has attracted a number of new players to the market, including Kohl’s, Cost Plus World Market, Best Buy, Dress Barn and Ulta Cosmetics. Pier 1 is making its return to Clark County after vacating a previous Vancouver location several years ago. Bed Bath and Beyond, Sleep Country USA and Michaels are expanding their presence here with locations in Columbia Crossing. With locations in Portland, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Peet’s Coffee and Tea are making their first foray across the river. And Panera Bread, a bakery and café with no existing locations in Oregon or Southwest Washington, will also occupy the development.

Ewing said the development will serve as a measure for other retailers who have histori-cally shunned Clark County for sales-tax-free Portland.

Matt Olson, president of Columbia Crossing general contractor Robertson and Olson Construction, points out that the cost and time of travel for the county’s growing population is making local shopping options more attractive. Best Buy, which is also opening a Hazel Dell Towne Center location, represents the first national consumer electronics store to test local waters.

"They can be a catalyst for other electronics stores," said Ewing.

It may be more about the makeup of the immediate Fisher’s Landing area than the county as a whole that makes the location attractive for tenants. The development serves as a convenient shopping base for the growing population of the area, said Ewing. But more importantly, the Fisher’s Landing area consists of a more highly educated population with bigger incomes.

"As a whole it has the highest disposable income in Clark County," said Ewing.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill is expected to open in early 2007. Vancouver-based Waterloo Restaurant Ventures, who began opening locations of the franchise chain throughout the Northwest in 2003, chose Columbia Crossing for its first Southwest Washington location. The casual dining concept is well suited for the retail mix, the business lunch crowd and the area’s educated, high-income demographic.

The emergence of Columbia Crossing, expected to be mostly complete by this fall, should not detract from competitors eyeing the area.

"Retailers want to be close to each other," said Ewing. "It’s the cluster effect."

Bechen said the continued build-out of Columbia Tech Center will make the area more attractive.

"It will have a positive impact on surrounding land holdings and foster additional investment and development in that area," he said.

Already planned on Mill Plain Boulevard to the west is 340,000 square feet of retail space at the former Evergreen Airport site. Groundbreaking on The Landing at Evergreen mixed-use project is antici-pated this summer.

A national presence

Columbia Crossing: 205,000 square feet of retail space in six buildings at the southeast corner of Mill Plain Boulevard and 164th Avenue in the Columbia Tech Center development.

Bank of America
Bed Bath and Beyond
Best Buy
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Cost Plus World Market
Dress Barn
Panera Bread
Peet’s Coffee and Tea
Pier 1
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Sleep Country USA
Ulta Cosmetics

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