Connecting downtown to the new waterfront

Block 10 grocery store deal is seen as key to making the waterfront’s residential development work

Connecting Top News
Rendering courtesy of Gramor Development

Downtown Vancouver and the Waterfront Vancouver are developing like two sides of a weighted scale, but the linchpin may well be the proposed grocery store planned near Esther Short Park.

That grocery store, which is still not completely secured, will draw foot traffic from both the waterfront and downtown. And that, in turn, will help revitalize shops, retail and business through the entire area, said Chad Eiken, community and economic development director for the city of Vancouver.

“There’s a lot happening downtown,” Eiken said. “What we’re seeing is taking us in a good direction. We have new pubs, new coffee shops and new restaurants opening up. We have more residential coming. And the waterfront will be additive, and probably draw even more people here.”

Gramor Development announced this March it was planning to add a grocery store and six stories of apartments to Block 10 – the last empty block downtown, located on 8th and Washington streets near Esther Short Park. Things are moving forward, but the process of securing the grocery store could take another month or so, said Molly Ishkanian, a spokeswoman for the company.

“We don’t have it inked, but we’re working on it,” explained Gramor President Barry Cain, when asked about the grocery store last month. “We’re working on design and we’re talking to tenants. Getting a grocery store down here will open up some eyes [at the waterfront].”

Once the deal is finished, the grocery store will likely have a huge impact cementing connections between the rapidly growing waterfront development and downtown Vancouver, Eiken said.

“It’s one of those key things missing from downtown – a quality full-service grocery store,” Eiken said. “I think it’s going to be a homerun when it gets built.”

Linda Glover, chair of the Vancouver Downtown Association, said a grocery store is really critical to growth in the area; it’s something downtown has needed for a long time.

“The grocery store is essential,” Glover said. “People of all ages are moving downtown. They want to get rid of their cars. They want a grocery store nearby that they can walk to.”

And that’s the key, they both said: Walking culture.

With a grocery store at Block 10, pedestrians will be able to walk to the store from their downtown or waterfront homes or apartments, which will take them past new stores and shopping options.

“The waterfront developer (Gramor) sees the downtown grocery store as key to making the waterfront residential side work,” Eiken said. “They want it to be walking distance, which is why they’re interested in Block 10.”

Increased foot traffic to the often shifting stores around Esther Short Park will also be a big help to the downtown economy, noted Eiken.

“I know some of those spaces have struggled in the past,” he said. “The more people, the more restaurants downtown, the more secure those spaces are. All of this is just going to build.”

Glover said downtown Vancouver could also use some more retail as development continues in the area, especially near Esther Short Park. Right now there are not many retail options for things like shoes, clothing or gifts, she said.

“We get tourists in the area, and maybe they forgot to bring hiking shoes or shorts,” Glover said. “There’s really nowhere downtown for them to buy those. We need more retail and more medical services as well.”

For now, there are about 3,000 to 4,000 people living in downtown Vancouver, Eiken said, but that number could grow significantly with new development, according to Glover.

“We’re increasing the number of employees downtown,” she said. “There’s quite a number of new technology companies here. We’ve grown in a short number of years. There are at least 35, 40 IT companies in the area. They’ll also support a grocery store, and more of them will likely move downtown as more housing becomes available.”

The entertainment options are also growing and will be part of the larger draw to the area, Eiken said.

“At the waterfront we have two restaurant [buildings] going in now,” Eiken said. “They’re putting the exterior walls on. It’s two fairly big buildings that will hold more than one restaurant.”

So far, WildFin American Grill, Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar and Ghost Runners Brewery are planning to open on the Waterfront next summer, with space for a few more, Eiken said.

M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust is planning to be one of the anchor tenants for the office space.

“They’ll have outdoor seating and a big deck,” Eiken said. “I think once people go down there, they’re going to want to move there.”

Flanking the two restaurant buildings under construction, the City’s Grant Street Pier is another feature starting to take shape. Additionally, Tapani Inc. of Battle Ground is building a 7.2 acre public park for the city at the waterfront, set to be finished in fall 2018.

“The public park will be on the water in front of restaurants and connected with the city waterfront trail,” Eiken said. “You’ll be able to ride your bike all along the new waterfront.”

Parking is also a big consideration, with the addition of a seven-story office tower and a similarly sized apartment building at the waterfront. Gramor is building underground parking structures and space for about 400 cars at the site.

“They’re also building some surface parking lots, which will serve as interim parking as things develop,” Eiken said.

Downtown may also need to bump up its parking with the new development, which is something the city is investigating, Eiken said.

“We’re already feeling parking pressures downtown, and we’re having a parking consultant give us some feedback on what we need,” Eiken said. “Do we need more garages? Or do we just need to better manage the supply of parking spaces? We’ll get the results of that this fall.”

Adding even more development, the Port of Vancouver recently signed a lease with Vesta Hospitality to build a new hotel near the former Red Lion at the Quay site.

“That’s another project we’ll be seeing here in the short-term,” said Eiken.

He also thinks the host of new restaurants opening will draw more tourists from Portland.

“Regardless of where people live in the metro area, they’re always looking for new restaurants and new experiences,” Eiken said.

Planning for the construction has been going on since the mid 2000s, before the Great Recession hit. The recession slowed planning quite a bit, but Eiken said things are going smoothly again.

“We’re a bit behind on the 20-year plan, which is what we initially had to build out all of the blocks,” he said, “but things are moving along.”