Development at exit 16 interchange moving full steam ahead

Courtesy of David Houston-Hill

Not long ago, exit 16 on I-5 was just the exit to get to La Center and fill up as you headed to wherever it was you were headed. Now it is rapidly developing into a major retail and entertainment area in northern Clark County, with new development plans including two hotels and additional shopping and eating possibilities.

New plans in the area of exit 16 are being pursued by several parties including private-sector developers The Convenience Group (TCG), the Cowlitz Indian Tribe as well as the City of La Center.

TCG, a company operating Minit Mart stores and other convenience outlets in several Clark County neighborhoods, has embarked on its largest-ever project on the east side of exit 16. TCG Co-Owner Joe Tanner said the company’s planned multi-use development represents an overall investment of $45-50 million, and will create hundreds of jobs. It will significantly improve the usage of a site already owned by the company, where La Center Road snakes eastward toward the central zone of La Center.

Phase 1, which will be finished and open to the public this year, bears a price tag of $7 million, and will feature a new convenience store and gas station. Phase 1 also includes much of the infrastructure necessary for the entire three-phase project. As the work progresses through the other two phases, the site will include a hotel, which represents an investment of almost $25 million, and about 13,000 square feet of new commercial space. In addition, TCG will spend another $3-4 million on construction of a restaurant space at the site, Meanwhile, the site’s gas station, operated by TCG, will continue to be a Shell station.

The location is at an intersection in more ways than one. It stands on land that La Center recently expanded to include, with city officials aiming to develop it into an economic hub under an all-embracing name: The Junction. “This is the beginning of what we hope will be a major new economic hub for the city,” said Bryan Kast, public works director for the city of La Center.

Tanner stressed the mutuality of TCG’s long-standing cooperative relationship with the city and the Cowlitz Tribe whose reservation sits on the west side of Exit 16 and is home to ilani Resort & Casino. “The Tribe contributed to improvements on our land as a result of some concessions we made,” he said. “We are very enthusiastic and optimistic that the Tribe continues its development in the area, as do we and others. The initiatives of all parties taken together should result in a very bright future for the City of La Center and the I-5 interchange. We have close relationships with the Tribe and the city and feel like we’re on the same train.”

Among the benefits of the TCG development for the city: a boost in sales tax and property tax. Tanner said this further boosts the role TCG already has as La Center’s biggest single source of sales tax revenue. That is not only because of the site near the interchange, but also thanks to TCG’s other location, La Center Marketplace in the city.

Kast confirmed the economic benefits for the city of the TCG development, in terms of revenue from sales tax and lodging tax, and noted that the city has been trying to build more retail opportunities to get sustainable tax revenue.

Tanner said that while many potential tenants have already indicated their interest in the commercial space TCG plans at the location, it is not timely to talk with them in detail yet. “It’s the ABCs of the national brands that you could see in many places like this,” he said.

As for the financing of TCG’s investment, Tanner said TCG has a more than 20-year relationship with two Clark County banks, Riverview Bank and IQ Credit Union, which are providing the requisite money in the form of mortgage loans. “Financing for the hotel and convenience store is arranged, at $20-25 million,” he said. “We have to put a major piece of equity in there: $10 million.” He said the same two banks have financed all TCG’s projects.

Kast, giving examples of additional signs of economic activity in the general area, mentioned a rockery and landscaping business, which the local company Tapani opened close by. “We recently altered our temporary use code, from one year to three years, for that business to stay a bit longer, and they are thinking of making that permanent,” he said.

Kast said that by encouraging developments in this area, the city is helping the entire Portland-area economy and is filling in a gap on the map.

“North Clark County is the last not-built-out quadrant of the Portland metro area,” he said. “There has been increased interest in residential development as La Center’s population has been growing for the last few years.”

Kast said that as the city looks into ways of supporting and promoting the exit 16 interchange area, its public officials have been discussing tax-increment financing (TIF), a system under which local governments support a redevelopment zone by borrowing against the zone’s projected growth in local property tax revenue. The state legislature decided last year to make TIF available here. Kast stressed that TCG has not been offered any tax holiday or financial incentives.

TCG want local residents to know that the new investments are made with the community in mind. Tanner said TCG’s convenience store on the site will continue TCG’s practice of reflecting the local neighborhood values into its décor and mood helping to cultivate a community feel, rather than pushing the parent company’s brand.

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