What if Library Square Went Tall, I Mean Really Tall?

I have been gathering data on projects and various properties for potential projects; I find myself really stuck on Library Square. Library Square is the Library on Evergreen and C Street and the big empty lot next to it that was once a Pontiac – Cadillac auto dealership. The city and committees occasionally go over the proposals for developing this parcel the latest of which includes an assortment of buildings arranged ever so, two mid-rises and a high-rise along with a substantial underground parking garage.

The latest drawings were addressed by the City Center Redevelopment Authority in 2018 and a few updates have been mentioned in meetings since.

I have a couple of issues with the use of this parcel for this project. It all boils down to the concept of highest and best use. This particular parcel is allowed for the highest density possible in Vancouver’s downtown. Vancouver has a series of zones all over the downtown area with building height restrictions and guidelines for development. This parcel is sitting on the urban mother lode. According to the most recent building height map and guidelines, this parcel can have a building 150-300 feet tall. If you look at the photo above you will see 805 Broadway (the red building) it is 165 feet tall. Obviously nothing in the little white models is remotely close to the height of 805 Broadway. Why put little buildings on one of the few lots in the city actually approved for taller buildings? Any of those model buildings could be erected on almost any other available lot downtown without need for any height variance.

Vancouver is pretty specific on that height range. Any building must meet the standard array of requirements for which a proposal is submitted for review. The 150 feet requirement means on that lot just about any building up to that height can be erected on that site providing all other parameters and approvals are met among other things such as FAA clearance. From 150 to 225 feet the city has some leeway to approve the structure providing the city feels the building is bringing other value to the table. Beyond that the building can rise on that lot all the way to 300 feet tall so long as the floor plate above 225 feet is less than 12000 square feet per floor. So the building would effectively get skinnier as it got taller.

So here’s an idea; why not build it tall? There has got to be a major insurance company or bank looking for a regional HQ in the Northwest. Seriously friends, banks and insurance companies have major egos. They love tall buildings. And what company doesn’t want a piece of the Pacific Northwest? We are the hottest place in America right now. Take a look at the Regions Bank building in Schreveport, LA. Schreveport is about the size of Vancouver accept it is in a much smaller metro area. Anyhow, Regions loves being the tallest in town. That building isn’t super pretty, but it isn’t ugly either. It is a tad taller than the local max height and it would need to be a bit skinnier at the upper floors to meet Vancouver’s height guidelines.

Closer to home, Tacoma has a 338 foot tall building formerly Wells Fargo Plaza. That building is kind of ugly though, so I’ll skip the photo 😉 Vancouver is doing a great job bringing urban development to the core and our skyline is beginning to take on a newer and I think better dynamic. We need one or two taller buildings. Nothing ridiculous of course, but a 20-25 story building in the 250-300 foot height range and another maybe 18-20 stories at 225-250 feet would give us an identifiable skyline. The second tower could go on the mostly vacant block directly west of Riverview Tower.

Maybe Safeco or Pemco would come down to Vancouver so their $60-$80k salary middle mangers and claims staff could actually live close to work without selling their soul to the landlord for rent like they do in Seattle. A nice regional claims office in a Class A office tower would go nicely in our amazing downtown. These larger projects could also be used to pull Portland based business over to our side of the river. This takes cars off the bridges and brings happiness those people who would now get to live AND work in Clark County!

There is a lot of money in the economy right now for business expansion, economies are fickle and this surplus of money will not stick around forever. Vancouver and her leaders need to get busy bringing that ‘bacon’ home to the ‘Couv’.

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