The Ritz-Carlton is nearly complete

Drone shot provided by The Ritz-Carlton

The Rose City is about to get a much needed boost to its sagging reputation of late. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences is nearing completion. The beleaguered city could use all the help it can get. It is most interesting that The Ritz-Carlton chose Portland over the larger, sexier, and richer Seattle for the only location in Pacific Northwest. The next nearest Ritz-Carlton is in San Francisco. The hotel is expected to open in mid July this summer. The residences should begin closing shortly thereafter with phased closings continuing through the end of next year according to the representative for the project.

I attended the broker event for this project last week, and found the property to be quite special. The closest competitor for it is actually here in Vancouver at Kirkland Tower. The similarities are striking. Both properties are private condominiums attached to a hotel. These towers are NOT condotels, that is a different business model altogether. These are private luxury homes that have the benefit of the amenities in the hotel, along with exclusive amenities not available to hotel guests. The private residences have a separate entrance, private elevators used exclusively by residents and completely detached from the Hotel, just like Kirkland Tower in Vancouver. The Ritz-Carlton Residences however are on a larger scale than Kirkland. They have 132 condominiums of which the developer claims more than 30 are sold. This compares to just 40 residences at Kirkland with 11 remaining. The representative also stated that the building itself is the fourth tallest in Downtown Portland, Kirkland Tower just happens to be the fourth tallest in Downtown Vancouver. The Ritz-Carlton is much taller than Kirkland standing 35 stories tall and 460 feet in height. Kirkland is diminutive in comparison with just 13 floors and 146 feet in height. But it is all relative, as Kirkland stands taller than all but three buildings as does The Ritz-Carlton in their respective Downtown areas. So the views from the top floor of either building relative to their surroundings are similar. Kirkland soars above the nearby structures as does The Ritz-Carlton.

So why is a website called “urban living in the couv” talking about a project in Portland? Like Kirkland Tower this is a very special project that will have lasting effects on the community. This new project in Portland will have effects to a lesser extent even here in Vancouver. This property is a proper competitor to Kirkland and I feel that both have much to offer. The Ritz-Carlton has a few advantages over Kirkland Tower. The first is that the residences are in the same building and are at the top of the structure. So even the lower floor units tower over the nearby buildings which are all between 8-15 floors. The residences are on floors 21-35. Below that floor are the hotel rooms and the amenities for both guests and owners, as well as some office space. The owners have their own private lounge and some other amenities exclusive to owners. The building does feature several restaurants including space on 9th street for seven award winning Portland Food Truck operators. That was a nod to the food truck operators that used to be located on that very block. Kirkland is attached to a separate hotel building which is an advantage and a disadvantage. The latter being that some of Kirkland’s condo units are on lower floors. Those on floors 8 and below that are not facing the river will not have great views. It seems that all the units in the Ritz-Carlton have sweeping views of the city. Of course we can’t fail to remind everyone that Kirkland is a waterfront property where as The Ritz-Carlton is in fact on a standard city block surrounded on all four sides by other buildings. It is not a convenient walk to the Willamette River waterfront for the future residents of The Ritz-Carlton.

Interior render provided by The Ritz-Carlton

I saw fully built models of the kitchen, bathrooms and some living area. The materials are on par with what I have seen at Kirkland. I have a complete package with hundreds of pages and photos for The Ritz-Carlton outlining just about everything you need to know about the project. Prices are a little higher than Kirkland on a per-foot basis and the HOA is a bit steeper as well. But the amenities in the project are a touch better than Kirkland. There is a 1 bedroom unit listed at $1.265 million that has more than 1100 SF on the 26th floor but I believe that one may be pending by the time this publishes. The next unit listed is a similar unit with a more premium view at $1.55 million.

The entry point for this project is similar to Kirkland Tower as most of Kirkland’s view units exceeded $1.3 million and all of the units in The Ritz-Carlton are view units. It should be noted that when view is removed Kirkland has a much lower cost entry with small lower floor units under $1 million. There is however a higher ceiling in this new project with top floor units priced in the $9 million range. The most expensive unit at Kirkland is expected to fetch about $5 million. Interested parties for either development can contact Rod Sager at for more information.

This project does impact Vancouver in the sense that it represents a genuine competitor for the Kirkland Tower which was the first development of this kind in the entire region. Since Kirkland still has units to sell, this could have an impact as now buyers in the ultra-luxury market have a choice between two somewhat similar opportunities. I believe that Kirkland is a better choice for a primary residence, unless the buyer needs to be close to Downtown Portland for business, or other reasons. The Vancouver Waterfront is a vastly superior neighborhood when compared to Washington and SW 9th in Portland. However there are people that prefer the more dense and busy nature of Portland versus the somewhat more quiet nature of Downtown Vancouver. Kirkland is a bit of a bet on the future where as The Ritz-Carlton is a known quantity so-to-speak.

When the Waterfront is built out, and at this point all indicators are that we are five years out on that, it will be one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the entire region. The original plan was to have 10,000 residents in the 32 acre development. That would represent a population density of 200,000 per square mile or 312 per acre. For awhile the Waterfront was behind pace for units with 3300 the target, but recent proposals for taller and more dense projects are nudging the neighborhood closer to the target range. I would estimate that the finished total at buildout will support closer to 8000 residents, but the population density will still exceed that of the current density in Portland’s Pearl District. For the sake of context, the Pearl District does have a much larger land area of roughly 200 acres against the tighter and more compact 32 acres at the Waterfront.

There will always be people that want to be in the center of the metro area, and Portland is going to win that contest. But with all the troubles in the Rose City, most of which have been self inflicted by a poorly run local government and an awful administrative system, many Portlanders are fleeing the city center. The glaring black-eye is Portland’s population growth has slowed to a snail’s pace and office vacancy sits above 27% which is simply unhealthy.

Downtown Vancouver enjoys a tight office vacancy rate of just 5.8% which is why we are seeing significant new development in office space while other cities are scaling back. Downtown Vancouver has thousands of housing units under construction or in the immediate development pipeline. There is no denying that the local energy for urban development is north of the Columbia. A shocking report from the RLB Crane index for Portland came in the Q3 2022 report of just 15 cranes in Portland. Is it possible that Vancouver could have more tower cranes up than Portland in the near future? We currently sit at 6 active cranes with a 7th on the way soon and possibly 2 more before any of the current cranes come down. That would give us 9 and Portland has been losing crane count consistently since Q3 2019. I await the Q1, 2023 report likely out in April. FYI: RLB issues this report twice a year, Q1 and Q3.

Urban condos in Vancouver saw a tightening in inventory as no new listings appeared and several units went pending or closed. There remains some pressure on buyers but conditions for buyers are not as hectic as they were 18 months ago. We are seeing multiple offers but the tendency has been close to asking some a tad less a few a tad more.

It looks like Aegis Phase one will be leasing units at the end of April. There also appears to be a name change for Phase one to Aeon at least that is what shows.

Aegis Phase II Primed for Launch & Academy Celebrates Sesquicentennial

Aegis renders with Academy in middle

At the end of last month Marathon Development closed on the final parcel at the Academy which will allow them to begin construction on Phase II of Aegis. Phase I is in the final stages of completion with most of the exterior structure complete and interior build out underway. They closed on three parcels to build Phase I. Two parcels along C street and a parcel facing 12th Street. The remaining parcel, the largest of the four is now recorded and opens up the NE corner of the Academy site where the Laundry and Chimney were recently demolished. Aegis has already run through the land use and design review phases, so now they just pull permits and start. I am not sure where they are on that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have their ducks all lined up to start this spring. The first phase brings 140 units and some retail. Phase two will bring 200 units and a parking garage. The two buildings on the left of the drawing are almost complete, the center structure is the 150 year old Academy building and Phase II is the larger structure at the top right.

Aegis Phase I from 5th floor of Library 3/2023

That final purchase produced more cash for the Academy to help finish the restoration as well as the complete remodel of the front courtyard area that will be spectacular when completed sometime in the next few years. There were a lot of detractors when the Aegis project was first proposed but in the end the entire area will be much nicer. The grounds were not well kept and being used as surface parking. It was a bit of a blight. Having brand new shiny buildings is better than having a weed infested parking area making the whole area look dingy. The academy building is a beautiful structure that deserves to be surrounded with nice landscaping and high quality structures as neighbors. That is happening and that is good.

I mentioned the Academy’s Sesquicentennial in the title and that is a milestone actually. It was built in 1873, so 2023 is in fact the 150th anniversary of that important historical building. I have some information about this building here. But the Clark County Historical Museum has a lot more. It is a fascinating tale of one of the most influential people in Clark County history. Mother Joseph a pioneer woman that helped make this area a regional leader for decades to come, designed and helped build the House of Providence building AKA the Academy.

There was substantial activity in the local urban condo market last week. Business was mixed with a few new listings, a few pending saled and some closed units. This made for a relatively neutral change in the inventory. But the increased activity is a positive sign that buyers are still excited about living in our urban areas, in particular the Downtown area. All of this activity and the ready acceptance of luxury apartments in the Downtown and Waterfront area is highly favorable for Condominium developers. Many people want to own their residence but don’t want to deal with a yard or exterior maintenance. This can be attractive to both the busy working people that spend long hours working their way up the proverbial ladder of success as well as older retired people looking for a nice place will no exterior maintenance. I am looking forward to a developer proposing a condominium tower with a little less opulence than Kirkland that opens the market up to people in the middle class. We shall see, condo development tends to be a more tricky animal than apartments.

Some of you may have noticed the construction activity on Block 7 at the Waterfront. This is the block immediately to the left after you clear the Grant Street Rail Underpass. This is an 8 story parking garage that will feature retail space facing Columbia Way and wrapping around both corners. It is expected to have well in excess of 800 spaces. Once complete the temporary surface lots on Blocks 5, 10, 11, 13, and 14 will be available to develop. Holland Partner Group already has a proposal for a 12 story mixed use project on Block 11, I discussed in an earlier post. The garage will be tall enough that I expect a tower crane to be erected to support the project. It is possible that Block 5 may be at least partially used for staging the construction.

Those of you watching the development may also have noticed that Block 3 ‘Timberhouse’ is nearing completion. That project features 8 floors above ground and 2 underground. 227 units of apartments should start leasing this summer. LPC West is currently underway with the Terminal One office project for ZoomInfo, that will be a 10 and 9 story parking and office complex it is now up about 3-4 floors tall. LPC West is the master developer for the City of Vancouver’s exciting Waterfront Gateway development and they have already submitted updated and CCRA approved designs. They are also in contract for both Blocks 1 and 2 of the Waterfront which already have preliminary approval for 10 and 12 floor office and residential towers respectively. They have become a major player in Vancouver urban development over the last few years.

I’ll have the last of the community spotlights in the near future.

Community Spotlight: Shorewood

Before I dive into the spotlight this week, activity in the urban condo market was mixed with sales and new listings keeping things about the same on inventory levels. Activity was modest in volume but encouraging considering the time of year.

Shorewood: what is it? Shorewood is a large campus style condominium project that dates back to the early 1970s. There are eight buildings on the campus including the clubhouse. There is also a newer apartment complex next door to the west also called Shorewood but it is a separate campus and contains only rentals. At the north end of the project along Evergreen Blvd are two 4 story apartment buildings. At the east end are three 4 story condo buildings with interior hallways and exterior carport parking. The west end features two 7 story towers with enclosed garages on the first floor and units on the 6 floors above. The last tower at the west end was erected in 1984. In 1998 Shorewood submitted plans to erect an 18 story tower on the site. The city at the time was all-in but the FAA wasn’t having it as the tower was right under the flight path for Pearson Field.

Shorewood is a bit dated now with all of the buildings in the 40-50 year age range. These however, are larger units than most modern projects with one beds having some 900 SF and the two bed units exceeding 1200 sf and more. Many of the units in this project offer views out over the Columbia River. Some units in the two taller towers at the west end offer enclosed patio sunrooms with retractable windows for all season enjoyment.

Shorewood has an impressive array of community amenities including a spacious clubhouse with billiards and darts and other fun activities as well as an indoor/out swimming pool with a retractable roof for all season swimming. Shorewood is located in the upscale suburban hillside neighborhood of Evergreen Highlands and has easy access to the SR14 freeway. It is however a bit isolated and feels more suburban than urban. The community does have retail shops within the developments including a small store, cafe, and a hair salon among others.

The neighborhood is quiet as far as traffic and general business is concerned, but there will be some freeway noise and jet noise as it is in close proximity two both Pearson Field and PDX and is perched on a bluff overlooking SR14 freeway and the River below.

Views from Shorewood feel like hi-rise views due to the bluff location From the 7th floor the height above the river is about 200 feet which has the feel of about 18-22 stories. Shorewood is still one of my favorites because cosmetically dated units can be found under $300,000 and that’s a value opportunity. Shorewood offers an urban feel in a suburban environment that splits the difference and for some, that could be ideal.

Pros and Cons to Shorewood:

Some units have views of the river Most views are at a 45º angle or peek-a-boo
Some units have deeded garage spaceMost parking is carport and exposed to weather
Local on campus stores and servicesLess convenient to activities and attractions than other urban condos
Easy access to three freewaysFreeway and Airport noise well above average
Adequate free guest parking on siteno-cons
Reasonably quiet neighborhoodA little disconnected from Downtown and Columbia Shores
Units are larger and well priced against peersUnits are often cosmetically dated
Surrounding neighborhood is high end SFHno-cons

So there it is Shorewood is a solid option for a value condo with some nice views.

New High-rise for Waterfront

I have mentioned over the last several months that Gramor has Block 11 under contract. It looks like local developer Holland Partner Group is taking that spot. You’ll note that this is the block immediately behind the Block 12 restaurants Twigs, and Waterfront Taproom, as well as the wineries, Willamette Valley and Maryhill.

Drawings by Otak, Inc. published in The Columbian

According to a report in The Columbian newspaper, Holland recently proposed a large residential-mixed use tower for the block. It was reported they have two proposals which seems similar to what they did with Vancouvercenter 4 and Block Ten, Downtown. They have a 12 story project which will feature 348 residential units and retail/commercial wrapping around the street level. They also have an 8 story option which would be similar in height to the nearby Riverwest across Grant Street from the property and offer 220 units. Whether this is an FAA alternative as the 12 story building would have more scrutiny under the FAA’s tight PDX/Pearson airspace regulations, or a market condition alternative is unclear. The height of their high-rise proposal is well under the published FAA height restriction, although the tower crane that would support the project would breech that FAA height limit. The FAA has made accommodations for tower cranes on other projects in recent years most notably, Kirkland Tower. Kirkland needed a 250 foot tall tower crane where as Holland would only need 200 feet and block 11 is further west which reduces impact on the FAA airspace. Translation: easy peasy 😉

In the case of both Vancouvercenter 4 and Block Ten, they ended up using the shorter towers. We’ll just have to see what they decide here on Block 11 at the Waterfront. Holland is more than capable of building successful residential high-rise towers as they have done so many times in cities all across the west. They built an award winning skyscraper in Seattle called, “Kiara.” The 12 story version will fit in very nicely as a complimentary juxtaposition for the under construction 12 story Springs Living tower that will rise up almost the exact same height as Holland’s high-rise proposal.

Whichever plan they choose, they won’t likely start construction until the second half of 2024. Blocks, 5, 10, 11, 13, and 14 are being used as temporary surface parking until the 8 level parking garage under construction now, is completed sometime in the first half of 2024. I have made a crude model based on the limited information in the recent article and the drawings provided by Otak, Inc. I loaded that model into Google Earth along with models of the current projects under construction. This gives an ideal of how the taller 12 story structure fits in at the Waterfront.

Google Earth image with Sketch-up models by Rod Sager. CS=construction start, UC=under construction

I am following this project with a page, here.

Condo activity was brisk last week, with all pending or sold and no new listings. That tightens things up a bit. Three more Kirkland Tower units were sold or went pending over the last 10 days. The window is closing on an opportunity two own a home in Vancouver’s premier Condo development. At my count 11 units remain, ranging in price from about $1 million to $3.4 million.

All five projects sitting under tower cranes Downtown and on the Waterfront are now rising well above street level. It is at this point that the scale of each project is revealed. These are all large full block and in the case of ZoomInfo at Terminal One multiple block developments. Three of these are high-rise projects.

Community Spotlight: Columbia Shores

Columbia Shores is a neighborhood just about a mile east of the new Waterfront. This area was part of an urban redevelopment of the western most portion of the industrial area that once housed Kaiser Shipyards back in WWII. Most of the former shipyards remains as heavy industrial with Thompson Metal Fabricators taking up a large portion of the area. The neighborhood covers just about 35 acres south of SE Columbia Way out to the river and includes some retail, office, hotel, commercial, restaurant, and of course condos. Notable restaurants in the area are McMenemins on the Columbia and Beaches both offering excellent riverfront locations. The entire neighborhood has excellent freeway access with SR 14 ramps immediately north of SE Columbia Way. The south side of the neighborhood features the Renaissance Trail that connects all the way to the new Waterfront.

As far as residential goes, there are three condominium projects in Columbia Shores and a 4th small infill development is under construction now. The latter is a townhouse development but I am not sure how the title will be on that project, multi-family rental, traditional townhouses, or condominiums. The three condo developments currently in place are The Village at Columbia Shores, Northwynd, and Meriwether. These are three very different communities that all share the same excellent neighborhood. Today we will look at all three.

The Village at Columbia Shores:

This development was built in the mid 1990s with most of its 135 units completed in 1996. The project had two distinct housing sections. The first section is a series of townhomes that front the Columbia River and are perched up above the Renaissance Trail offering spectacular river views. Although these are built like traditional townhomes they are configured as condominiums. Units here rarely come up for sale and they tend to fetch north of $1 million.

The second section is the condo tower which features a partially underground parking garage with secure entrance followed by 4 levels of condominiums, the top floor units feature a loft that acts as a defacto 5th floor. This is a nice building with secure access. South facing units on the 3rd and 4th floors offer nice views of the river and city lights at night. First floor units are a half floor off the street level offering some additional security. Units in the tower range in size from 1 bed 1 bath 700SF to larger loft units over 1300SF. Prices can be as low as $300,000 for a dated small unit to nearly $700,000 for a completely remodeled larger unit. The Village has an outdoor swimming pool and community clubhouse available to homeowners. The outdoor pool is seasonal. There is also a small fitness center just off the clubhouse. There are deed spaces in the garage each with a small private closet.

To the west of the development the Renaissance Trail continues towards Downtown and includes park space managed by the National Park Service as part of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Park.This provides an excellent spot to walk and enjoy the riverfront.


Northwynd is a townhouse community with ownership as condominiums. These row houses are two the three floors tall with garage under layouts. It has a bit of a European flavor with narrow streets and a vertical feel when walking around. There is some retail frontage on the south and east side offering coffee, mini-market, and some commercial retail office. Directly across the street to the south is two locally popular riverfront restaurants, Beaches and McMenamins. Since these are laid out as townhouses, there are no neighbors above or below, only along side. Also as condominiums the exterior maintenance such as siding and roofing is handled by the HOA.

Northwynd units range in size from 800 SF to more than 1500SF with 1, 2, and 3 bed layouts. Like the Village, Northwynd is a short stroll to the Renaissance Trail and Fort Vancouver NHP. Prices in Northwynd tend to run from the low $300s to just north of $500,000 depending on size and condition. Northwynd does not have direct access to the Renaissance Trail or the river but it is just a street crossing and short stroll away. Northwynd sees a fair bit of activity as it has more than 200 units.


These are mostly large and luxurious units all situated in a single four story building with a secure underground garage. Every unit faces south and overlooks the Columbia River. The building has a Mediterranean flavor featuring outside covered veranda style walk ways in the rear accessing the units which then look out over the river. Not many units come up in the building and when they do they tend to fetch prices well north of one million dollars. These units are mostly over 1000 SF and some feature more than 3000 SF of living space. This is one of the smaller condo projects we follow here at Urban Living it has 19 units.

Columbia Shores is a tidy and compact neighborhood with a nice mix of urban housing and a slightly slower and more quiet pace. With immediate access to the SR-14 freeway, Downtown is seconds away and PDX is only about 10 minutes away.

The Vancouver 180º

Wind back the clock a few decades and Vancouver was home primarily to suburbanites of which a fair percentage of roughly 35% commuted to jobs in Portland and even a few over to Nike and Intel in Washington County, OR. Downtown Vancouver was in pretty rough shape and the city was the butt of fair number of jokes around the metro area most notably coming from Portland. That all changed in the mid to late 1990s when the city led by Mayor Royce Pollard decided to turn things around in the heart of city.

Here we are back in 2023 and Vancouver has become a popular hot spot for residents and tourists alike. The Waterfront is just the latest in the renovations that have brought a legit urban buzz to our once dingy and frankly, sleazy Downtown.

Last week the Couv Life blog posted an article about Vancouver’s recent surge in local and regional popularity, a link here to that article. One of the drivers of this newfound popularity mentioned in that article is the disturbing rise in violent crime in Portland. The nation as a whole has seen a significant uptick in crime overall in the last few years, but Portland went from one of the safest big cities in America to one of the more violent in recent years.

Now if we are honest Vancouver has seen an uptick as well but Portland went from below the national average to nearly three times the national average on murders and in fact has a higher homicide rate than New York City right now! Vancouver has not been above the national average in the last decade at all. Murders are something that can make people decide to leave a community. Vancouver has benefitted from Portland ‘Flight’ in recent years. Vancouver however has also suffered a bit from at least a little bit of Portland spillover issues with the homeless population and some crime issues meandering across the river.

Thus far the 180º change is that Vancouver’s Downtown is now the clean, sleek, and fun place to be and Portland’s is looking like a third world nightmare. Vancouver has also been steadily adding jobs and that is taking some pressure off the bridges into Portland. People who live in Washington State definitely prefer to work here as well, since commuting sucks, and Oregon squeezes that extra 9%-11% out of your paycheck with the income tax for which Washingtonians have no representation. Hmm, didn’t we fight a revolution in this country largely over taxation without representation?

It is imperative that our local city leaders pay close attention to regional dynamics with crime, homelessness and other important trends as Vancouver’s policies can lead us in the wrong direction despite the fact they have been leading us in the right direction over the last 20 years. We the people need to keep a sharp eye on the city council an pay attention to the policy moves. Politicians are not to be trusted they must be closely monitored and when they foul up, the ballot box is our solution. We should also pay very close attention to local elections for District Attorney. Look at Portland, 20 years ago it was America’s darling, today it is a sad sack of failure. That all happened over a short two decades, glory to catastrophe in 20 years. Let’s make sure we don’t make the same mistakes.

OK enough of that, condo activity was light last week and I will be resuming the community spotlight series soon with the Columbia Shores area up next.

Community Spotlight: Academy Square

Before I dive into the spotlight development, a little news: At the end of last year, DST 150, LLC made the final purchase to complete the acquisition of an entire city block bounded by Main St on the west, 13th on the north, Broadway on the east, and 12th to the south. The LLC is registered to a known developer out of Bend, OR that has been active in suburban residential development throughout Clark County for many years. I am not aware of any urban density projects they have undertaken locally.

A few months ago a proposal to build a seven story mixed use building floated through the local media and it seems that the land acquisition is complete. The block consisted of four roughly equal size parcels tethered to each corner of the block. Three existing structures cover all or part of the parcels. County records show a total purchase price of $8.3 million dollars which seems rather high if the structures are going to be demolished to make way for a new building. A former funeral home and crematorium are among the structures that would need to go to develop the block. Although the funeral home is an interesting looking structure with some good architectural pizazz, it isn’t in the best shape, the other two structures are one story 1960s era buildings of little note. I’d love to see that block updated and I will keep you posted on the status. This block lies one block west of todays community spotlight.

Another purchase of interest is the three parcels making up a half block just west of Riverview Tower at 9th and Columbia. This property is owned by NW Baptist Foundation and it appears the land was a donation at the very end of last year. I have no idea what the intention is for this parcel but it is ideally suited for high density development. I have reached out to the foundation but have not yet heard a response. I’ll keep an eye on it.

So Academy Square, what is it? Academy Square was built in the mid 1940s and at some point in that last few decades it was converted into condominiums. There are approximately 40 units and I believe they are all 1 bed 1 bath units with about 517 SF. There are ground floor and second floor units. These vintage brick buildings are well maintained and frankly are rather stately in appearance. The basement area serves as a laundry area. These units represent a value opportunity in Downtown Vancouver to own. Units tend to sell these days in the mid 200’s which is about as reasonable as it gets in Vancouver’s urban core. The entire block is consumed by this development and it is raised a bit above street level and features wrought iron style fencing around the perimeter. Parking is on the street with diagonal deeded spaces on the North and East street front.

Academy Square features lovely classic style garden courtyards in between the zig zagging buildings. Due to its old school design it lacks some of the security features of the more modern mid-rise and high-rise condo towers in the area. It is a short 8-10 minute walk to Esther Short Park and offers easy and quick access to the I-5, SR 14, and SR 500 freeways. The neighborhood features the Historic Academy along with the new Aegis Apartments that will open this summer and the Our Heroes Place apartments at the Felix, Ed, and Dolly towers nearby. These are all market rate neighboring developments. Due to the age of the buildings units will have a varying degree of decor and style. Some may be dated and vintage looking while others I have seen a modern and sleek inside with many of the trendy styles of today.

These units generally do not feature any views in the traditional sense as they are all ground and second floor. Recent development has brought taller mid rise buildings nearby that have left the area with a little bit less light in the winter time. It isn’t too bad though as the latest towers are only 6 floors and the Phase II of Aegis will also be 6 floors. These are casting some shadows over the south side of the block in the darker months of the year.

Pros and Cons to Academy Square:

Some units have views over the courtyardNo units really have a view per se
Deeded street side parkingParking is fully exposed to street and weather
Very walkable neighborhoodLess convenient to activities and attractions than other condos
Easy access to three freewaysArea is a bit noisy with activity, but less than Esther Short Park area
Street parking is free on weekendsParking for guests is limited and expensive on weekdays
Close to retail and restaurantsno-cons
Units are well priced against peersUnits are small most being 1 bed and 517 SF
Significant development in area expectedWill likely be busy with construction projects on nearby blocks

So there you have, Academy Square is a solid starter condo in the heart of Vancouver.

Community Spotlight: Heritage Place

Before I dive into the community that started Vancouver’s Downtown revitalization efforts back in the late 90s, I have a bit of news. Last week saw a significant number of new listed units enter the market with several pending and closed sales as well, but a slight bump in favor of buyers in the inventory level. There is also a rare opportunity at Columbia Shores to buy one of the townhomes that front the river. Kirkland Tower closed on another unit leaving fewer than a dozen remaining in what is the top tier urban condominium project in the region. Interest rates have also settled down a bit making things a bit more stable, this is also a boost for consumer confidence in housing.

OK Heritage Place: what is it? In the late 1990s the City of Vancouver decided it was time to clean up the decrepit Downtown area surrounding Esther Short Park. The park itself had become a dangerous place and the empty former brewery complex nearby sat crumbling in disrepair. That old complex was razed and the city began to renovate the park. Heritage Place was designed to be a two square block mixed use urban development. What it lacks in height it makes of for in location, design, and convenience. The parking is in a partial submerged garage in the back of the two buildings on each block while the front half facing Esther Short Park features retail, restaurants and such. A very nice compliment of options from fine dining to Subway sandwiches. This was the first of a great many new and exciting projects to complete and some 180 units designed as condominiums were built. The design is a wrap around an interior courtyard. The courtyards are actually quite lovely. Units will either have an interior view over the courtyard or exterior view over the street and or Esther Short Park.

These units tend to be a bit larger in living space than nearby Parkview at Vancouvercenter. They are also a little bit nicer but like Parkview they are getting a bit long in the tooth style wise. All of these units are above street level and offer access via a secure garage and or lobby. The two buildings are connected via a second floor skybridge. Amenities which were state of the art back in the day are now fairly standard in apartment and condo projects but include a clubhouse, fitness center, and of course the absolutely lovely interior courtyards.

The buildings are divided in to east and west with the eastern building at the corner of Columbia and West 8th and the western building at the corner of Esther and West Eight. Both buildings offer units that face the park. Units in the eastern building facing Columbia Street used to have a view out over the makeshift park on Block Ten and the urban skyline, but the recently completed Block Ten project has a seven story apartment building tall enough to block all views. I would expect these east facing units to be offered at slightly lower prices than similar units in the west building that can see over the short office building at Esther and West 8th. All of the units facing north currently offer decent city scape views but there is quite a bit of vacant lots serving as surface parking at the moment but could very quickly be snatched up by developers and end up with taller projects that might block views in the future.

Regarding views, generally Heritage Place is not so much about the views, this is after all a four story project. Most of the trees in the area including all those along streets are mature and as tall as the buildings themselves. Those looking for a city style view are better served looking at Parkview, Frontier Block, or Viewpoint. This property has aged well, seems to be well kept, and to my knowledge has not had much in the way of HOA financial drama. It should be noted that there is a single entity that owns a large quantity of units in the project and some lenders may be a bit squeamish about that. However there are plenty of lenders that will allow this, so it doesn’t seem to affect the marketability of the units.

For people who want to live in the thick of the urban activity, this location is hard to match. The park serves as a center for festivals, concerts, and Vancouver’s excellent weekend Farmer’s Market that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. This neighborhood can be quite busy particularly in the late spring, summer, and early fall.

Compared to Parkview that sits caddy-corner from Heritage Place, these units are a bit nicer, offer a lovely common area interior space, with nice wide corridors between the units. Where Parkview feels a little cramped, this project seemed to favor larger spaces even at the expense perhaps of a few extra units they may have been able to ‘squeeze’ in with a more tight design. Other than the handful of exterior east facing units, these units tend to feel open despite the diminutive height of these buildings. It is a well designed urban development.

Pros and Cons to Heritage Place:

Some units have views of the ParkMost views obstructed by trees & taller buildings
Deeded secure parkingParking partially below grade, can be exposed to extreme temperatures
Perhaps the best Location DowntownCan be busy and noisy at times
Most units have patiosExterior unit patios can be littered with tree leaves and debris
Street parking is free on weekendsParking for guests is limited and expensive on weekdays
Lots of retail and restaurants in the developmentno-cons
Units are well priced against peersUnits can still be expensive despite being a value opportunity
Significant development in area expectedWill likely be busy with construction projects on nearby blocks

So there you have it, Heritage Place remains a popular and desirable location for condos and should remain so for the foreseeable future.

Community Spotlight: Frontier Block at 500 Broadway

Before I dive into this week’s spotlight, a little news:

  • Inventory remains level with a slight edge to sellers of urban condos. Prices are also holding up well with just a slight downward pressure primarily at the high end and on previously overpriced listings.
  • The City of Vancouver appears to be moving forward with the third “Safe Stay” community to the city block owned by the Lynch Estate at Evergreen and Esther. I wrote an article expressing my displeasure with that notion you can read here. Keep in mind I am not against that program, I just feel that a block zoned for high density development is not the best choice for a low density project. The Safe Stay communities tend to be unattractive and thus can Create downward property value pressure. The city had several other ideal spots for this on the west side. Oh well so it goes.
  • Interest rates seem to be stabilizing which is a good thing. I am seeing rate clocks in the high 5s for extremely well qualified buyers, but most locks are coming in the mid to upper 6s

OK Frontier Block here we go. What is Frontier Block? Back in 2001 West Coast Bank erected a type I six story mixed use building at 500 Broadway. Oddly, the building actually stands on 6th street, but that’s just semantics, right? The first four floors are class A office space and the upper two floors hold 22 condominiums ranging in size from about 1000 SF to over 2000 SF. Units on the 5th floor do not have patio balcony space but do have a defacto Juliet balcony by opening the full height window in the living room. Units of the 6th floor have exposed patios with partial cover from weather.

The building features secure underground garage with deeded spaces. There is also a public garage on top of the secure garage below grade. Units also have a deeded closet for storage just off the underground garage. This building does have some views that are likely ‘forever’ views due to its interesting location. Units facing east look out over Interstate 5 and the Fort Vancouver National Historic Park. Those views should be unobstructed indefinitely. Units facing south should have little view interruptions as the new Interstate Bridge will likely be less tall than the current spans with their 275 foot tall draw bridge towers. Units facing west and north already have a congested city view with nearby towers that are taller than these condos. However these taller structures are all more than a block away so there isn’t a claustrophobic feel here. Southwest views from this building are going to see some real change. What was once a sweeping view of the Columbia River will now see some interruption with new taller structures under construction on the waterfront.I have a Google Earth image with models that very closely represent under construction projects now as they will appear when completed in the next 12-18 months as well as a few that are still in permitting but will almost certainly get built over the next 18-24 months.

In my opinion these are still great views. Since the building is now more than 20 years old these once top tier condos can now be found at intermediate luxury prices. A 2000 SF unit can be had for less than a million dollars and that compares well to a similar unit in Tidewater that would fetch well north of $1 million and at the new Kirkland Tower would be north of $2 million. I still think this small community of 22 condos is an excellent location and perfect for those seeking a slightly less hectic street life below. This building is 3 blocks east of the Convention Center and Esther Short Park and thus is a bit more quiet especially after hours. Quiet being relative of course, you are still Downtown 😉

This building has a private secure elevator lobby separate from the office tower elevators and has a very nice class A lobby of course shared with the offices. There is not a full suite of condo amenities here so don’t expect a luxury workout center and swimming pool. Depending on how you feel about heights, I feel like the Viewpoint has the edge over Frontier Block with units on floors 8-11 but they also tend to fetch a bit more money. These condominiums have a nice little niche in our local market and for the right person they represent a genuine value in the space.

Pros and cons to Frontier Block:

Excellent viewsSome views facing future partial obstructions
Some well protected viewsSome facing future and current partial obstructions
Excellent locations slightly off the busy corridorsBroadway and 6th not as nicely developed as Esther Short Park area
Type I construction fire resistant and quietno cons
Pricing is reasonable considering size and viewsUnits still in the expensive range, units are a bit dated now
6th floor units have patiosPatios are very small
Deeded secure garage parking spacesMost spaces on a steepish angle
Public garage attached to buildingGuests must pay to park
Special secure private elevator and mail lobbyGeneral lobby shared with office tower

Frontier Block at 500 Broadway tends to run under the radar which is good and bad. But one advantage is you get a lot of space and style for a lower price than other more “famous” projects in the area.

Community Spotlight: Viewpoint at Vancouvercenter

Before I start on Viewpoint, a little news: Activity is picking up with a small batch of both new listings and closings last week. The inventory pressure remains about the same this week with sellers enjoying a slight advantage. The CCRA reviewed some minor modifications to the Waterfront Gateway district last Thursday. The updated plans show more details about public space in the development as well as some design modifications to the large building south of City Hall and the other southern structures as well. Nothing major in terms of changes. This development will fill the city owned vacant lots between City Hall and the BNSF railway and serve as a ‘gateway’ to the Waterfront.

OK Viewpoint at Vancouvercenter, what is it? This is a condominium project that offers four floors of condos on top of a seven story office tower. This was the third and tallest tower in the four tower Vancouvercenter development. The building was completed in 2004. The condos are located on floors eight through eleven and offered the best urban condominium views in the city at the time. Viewpoint still arguably offers the best views as the tower is slightly taller than Kirkland Tower at the waterfront and sits 20 feet higher in elevation as well. Those eleventh floor views still tower over all but two downtown buildings. The condos were offered as top tier luxury units in 2004. The project is now nearly 20 years old, but these units still hold up as excellent luxury options although no longer state of art.

Viewpoint (top right) soars over the rest of Vancouvercenter

Viewpoint has become a bit of a value proposition much as the neighboring Parkview that was in the spotlight last week. These units are running just a little more than half the price per square foot as the new ‘King of Condos’ Kirkland Tower. The HOA fees are also running at about half price as well. This by no means makes these ‘affordable’ as prices on a 2-2 with 1500 SF will still tickle a million dollars, but it does mean that a buyer can decide on a little less opulence and service in exchange for more space or a lower price when compared to the gold standard of local luxury at Kirkland.

Viewpoint units do have deeded spaces in the secure underground garage at level P3. The amenities in the tower, like Parkview are a bit limited but the location is hard to beat, just a half block off Esther Short Park in the heart of Downtown. It is an easy stroll to the Park, the Waterfront, and literally hundreds of restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, and retail stores. Like other mixed use office/residential projects Downtown, Viewpoint shares a lobby with the office tower. Although the building has excellent security the lobby is not technically as secure as an all residential tower during normal business hours.

With a name like Viewpoint, views are a big part of the appeal. It is here that this development delivers on the promise. Even the lower level condos on floor eight still offer views above all the neighboring structures. Parkview is seven floors, Coen & Columbia apartment towers are six and seven floors, and the new Block Ten project has a seven story apartment tower and a six story office. All of these are shorter than the eighth floor of this tower and all of these are modern structures unlikely to be replaced for decades. To the east there are no nearby tall structures, affording these east facing units an unobstructed view. City zoning protects the Main Street corridor from high-rise development so that view is also likely protected for decades to come. Compared to the Kirkland Tower which has forever protected views to the south of the Columbia River, Viewpoint has well protected views at 360º regardless of the floor or direction. Kirkland’s top two floors are almost certainly protected views in all directions but the lower floor units facing away from the river, have or will certainly have blocked views due to other tall structures rising up over the next few years. Where Viewpoint may lose some view appeal is the river; as tall structures rise up along the Waterfront, some units may see the water view disappear or become restricted to a peek-a-boo. These tall structures are far enough away to avoid being a blocked view, they may just hide some of the water views. East facing units will likely have protected river views as they look out across a portion of the river that is unlikely to see high-rise development in the future. east facing units also have some spectacular views of the Cascades and some notable tall volcanoes, such as Mount Hood, Mount St, Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Rainier.

Pro’s and Con’s to Viewpoint:

Top tier city viewsSome river views partially obstructed
Well protected viewslower units on floors 8-9 are close to the rooftops of nearby towers
Excellent locationBusy neighborhood tends to be a tad noisy
Type I construction, quiet and fire resistantno cons
Pricing is reasonable considering size and viewUnits are still fairly expensive overall
Patios/balconies Most units offer exterior patios, some are very largeSome patios are not covered
Deeded parking spacesSome spaces are non-designated
Large public garage underneath towerGuest and extra vehicle parking is expensive
Private elevator access separate from officesLobby is shared with office tower

Viewpoint remains one of my favorite condominium options in Vancouver’s city center. There are only 33 units so the community is small and tight. Leave a comment if you want a specific development ‘spotlighted’ next.