“I strongly believe that our downtown will be revitalized once you have people that work here and live here and play here.”
This is the vision that drives Elie Kassab and his company, Prestige Development, founded in 1997.
Looking around downtown Vancouver (and Battle Ground), you can see ample evidence of the impact Prestige Development is having.
In 1998, Kassab realized that the demise of the four-plex cinema at Jantzen Beach created a gap in the market. In response, Prestige Development turned a gravel parking lot and a vacated dead-end city street into a 12-plex, 2,200 seat cinema – the first building to rise in downtown Vancouver in many years. Still in operation, Kassab said the City Center Stadium 12 Cinema project “helped spark a revitalization of downtown Vancouver.”
Lewis & Clark Plaza opened in 2004. Prestige Development developed this 46-unit residential building on Broadway as part of the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. As such, it provides affordable and convenient housing for senior residents in downtown Vancouver. Never one to stop at mere functionality, Kassab incorporated beauty into the building’s design – such as a street-level interpretive center and art gallery with sculptures of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea.
Battle Ground has also benefitted from Prestige Development’s interest in revitalizing downtown communities. In 2005, the firm built The Gardner Center, including the Battle Ground Cinema, in response the city’s request to bring family entertainment and food service to the area.
“The Former mayor of Battle Ground said that police calls dropped dramatically once the cinema opened,” stated Kassab.
Prestige Development’s newest Vancouver project, Prestige Plaza, is located on a full city block bounded by Mill Plain and 13th Street and C and D streets. Kassab said this is his favorite project so far because it is a “full city block development” and to revitalize downtown, he said, we need to “get a lot of units built and get people moved into them.”
The retail and office space at Prestige Plaza is over 90-percent leased, said Kassab. He added that Fairway Independent Mortgage has leased half of the space on Mill Plain, and one of the four live/work units on 13th has been leased to a jewelry operation. Besides the retail and office space, Prestige Plaza also includes two four-story 46-unit apartment buildings for a total of about 100,000 square feet.
In response to customer demand, Prestige Plaza is the first complete FIBER LIT building in the Vancouver/Portland area. Every unit has fiber-optic gigabit Internet connectivity.
“That is demanded by the consumer, and sets us apart from other buildings,” said Kassab. “People want access to high-speed Internet.”
Starting with only four or five employees, Kassab’s firm has grown substantially. Each of the company’s four cinema locations (Vancouver and Battle Ground in Washington; Sandy and Independence in Oregon) has between 10 and 15 employees; Lewis & Clark Plaza has a manager; Prestige Plaza has three staff; and six staff are located at Prestige headquarters – close to 60 in all.
Kassab said one thing that sets his firm apart from other development firms is doing “what others say can’t be done.”
Kassab used the in/out entrance on Highway 503 for the Gardner Center as an example.
“Everyone told us we were not going to get it. It’s been tried before…,” said Kassab, “but we don’t give up easily.”
He said that through diligent work with WASHDOT, Prestige Development was able to convince the agency to “give [the entrance] to the project and to the community.”
That persistence, he said, “paved the way for more economic development in Battle Ground.”
While developing live and work space is important, Kassab and his firm also take time out to become involved with the community. Kassab served on the board of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce for seven terms, and has been on the board for Identity Clark County since 1998. Kassab said that a cause that is “near and dear to my heart” is the Quinn Driscoll Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for the “silent killer” of young athletes in high schools – Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
“I knew Quinn personally and his family are all dear friends,” said Kassab. “We conduct testing clinics in partnership with PeaceHealth and I have been on the board since its inception. We also donate automated external defibrillator (AED) devices to all schools that need them.”
The future looks busy for Prestige Development. The firm is “actively pursuing” the 409 on Mill Plain project, working on project design and “beginning to discuss things” with the city. This project calls for some retail space and 24 units of student housing mainly serving Clark College students.
The firm has also begun the ROK Industrial project in Ridgefield – a 7.5 acre site with a 100,000 square-foot industrial building. Kassab said they had “already moved some dirt, but need to wait until Mother Nature is more friendly later this spring to really get going.”
“I see Ridgefield as a growing community, and a place for us to lead a new wave of development,” added Kassab.
When queried about what, from a development perspective, Southwestern Washington needs most, Kassab answered that a few more companies need to move their headquarters here, and the community as a whole “needs to really pay attention to small businesses and help them survive.”