River cruises boost waterfront during redevelopment

American Empress brings new era to Terminal 1, preserving access to Columbia River and into the future

Jim Hagar

Did you know that the largest overnight riverboat west of the Mississippi River docks right here in Vancouver? The American Empress, part of the Memphis, Tennessee-based American Queen Steamboat Company, begins its luxury cruises at the Port of Vancouver USA’s low dock at Terminal 1 on the Columbia River. From Vancouver, the sternwheeler travels up the Columbia and Snake rivers to Clarkston, Washington, stopping along the way to take in the sights and experiences of the Pacific Northwest.

Since 2014, the Empress has been bringing people to Vancouver to shop and dine, experience history at Fort Vancouver and enrich their lives through day trips to local wineries, Mount St. Helens and other nearby attractions.

Visit Vancouver USA estimates that these visitors will have an economic impact of $1.69 million on our local economy in 2016 and more than $2 million in 2017.

The growth of river cruise tourism is well-timed: Soon, river cruise-goers and other guests in our community will have the chance to experience more of our food, creativity and culture as the port and the City of Vancouver continue redeveloping properties along the Columbia River.

It took over a decade of partnership to get us here, during which we, the city and other partners collaborated to piece together properties, move railroad tracks, open up corridors between downtown and the river, and build the infrastructure necessary to support a waterfront worthy of our community and its distinctive history.

While we finalize our plans to redevelop 10 acres adjacent to the Interstate 5 Bridge, the port is fortunate to have a new restaurant by Beaches owner Mark Matthias – WareHouse ’23 – keeping things vibrant in the former Quay Restaurant at the Red Lion hotel. We’re also working with Vancouver firm Holland Partner Group to build a mixed-use building, and Vesta Hospitality (another Vancouver-based company) to construct an AC Hotel by Marriott. Late this year, we’ll submit our Concept Development Plan to the city and begin the permitting process so we can be ready to start construction in 2017.

Just upriver from Terminal 1, the city is constructing a public park and landmark pier on its 32-acre site. Columbia Waterfront LLC, the city’s lead developer on the project, has announced plans for residential, offices, retail and a hotel; the first buildings are expected to be open next winter.

As work on the waterfront rolls on, we continue to hear from citizens excited about what’s happening and businesses looking to be a part of the site’s future. National Geographic, which also offers cruises on the Columbia and Snake rivers, is performing two test dockages at Terminal 1 in November to determine if it’s a good fit for them. We’re pleased to accommodate their needs around the American Empress’ schedule and hope they and others continue making us a part of their journey.

A century ago, when the port was young, Terminal 1 was an active shipping hub moving Pacific Northwest goods from our fields and forests to the world. It’s still a hub of activity, but today we’re importing people who are drawn to the rich history and culture of our community.

It’s exciting to be a part of reinventing Terminal 1, bringing it into a new era and preserving access to the Columbia River for future generations.

Jim Hagar joined the Port of Vancouver in June 2015. His responsibilities include cultivating relationships with the port’s economic development partners, including the City of Vancouver, Clark County, Columbia River Economic Development Council, Greater Portland Inc., the Regional Transportation Council and others.

Hagar has two decades of experience in economic development at the community and state level. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Idaho State University and a master’s in public administration. He has also conducted doctoral studies in political science.