Local Companies Developing Amazing Projects

Vancouver USA has an almost secret society of companies involved with larger urban projects both locally and out of the area. There are often out of area or Portland firms involved in larger scale construction projects, but here in America’s Vancouver we have a tidy group of developers, architects, management firms, and construction companies geared towards the types of projects underway Downtown and on the new Waterfront as well as outside our region.

Vancouver’s own LSW Architects have been involved with the design of several notable projects that are proposed, underway, or completed. I have been following the LSW designed ‘Uptown’ apartment building, and the Riverwest Apartment building, during the design to completion cycle.

On the construction side of the equation Vancouver and/or Clark County is home to several large operations that have been involved in some of the urban development locally. Robertson and Olsen Construction has their fingerprints all over the new waterfront and they export their urban expertise across the Columbia River as well.

On the development side, many who have followed the waterfront development know the name Gramor they are actually based in Tualatin, Oregon. However they are the master planners of the waterfront, each project has its own developer, Gramor has plans for some of the waterfront blocks, but locally Kirkland is building the Indigo Hotel and Kirkland Tower Condos on Block 4 of the waterfront.

In the downtown area several other players are working on urban projects followed right here on this site. Cascadia Development Partners recently completed the wonderful Uptown Apartments. That building was recently sold to a California based investor. I hope that frees up some cash for Cascadia to start on the Aria Apartments near Esther Short Park.

Hurley Construction has become a local force both downtown and around the suburban areas, they are building the Hurley Tower on 3rd and Columbia right now. That is an office condominium project.

Holland Partner Group is a Vancouver based urban developer often building high-rise and mid-rise buildings. Often they continue to manage the projects they build. They manage the Vancouver Center 1 Apartments and are building the long awaited Vancouver Center 4 tower now.

Killian Pacific is a long time contributor to urban and industrial operations in Vancouver. They are based downtown and operate the industrial area at and around the former Kaiser Shipyards. They currently are working on the plans for the ‘Library Square’ project which is near the Library and on the site of the former Carr dealership on C Street.

Prestige Development is another Vancouver based company well known for movie theater construction and management but also built the Prestige Plaza mixed use apartment building on the former Burgerville site on Mill Plain and Broadway and are just now completing the ‘Our Heroes Place’ two building urban apartment project on the next block over.

Vancouver is home to a fair number of urban developers including several that build projects all over the western US.


Is the City Working Hard Enough to Attract Development?

Over the last 25 years and three Mayoral Administrations, Vancouver has seemingly done a good job with the urban renewal of the Downtown area and the new Waterfront. But have they really?

A closer examination does lead one to wonder whether more effort is needed. This renewal began in the mid 1990s during a solid economic expansion. Vancouver’s core area particularly around Esther Short Park had deteriorated into a inner city mess. Mayor Pollard and the City Council took action and within ten years things were looking up. But many proposals went unbuilt prior to the great recession which really began in 2008. What happened? Why was the city unable to get those proposals to construction phase faster when the money was flowing in a strong economy?

Fast forward to the post recession economic surge and one can start to ask the same thing. There are many proposals for projects that look great. Yet there seems to be a great deal of money flowing into our larger neighbor to the south. Sure Portland is a major US city and will always have a bit of an advantage, but they seem to be capitalizing on the surplus cash funds investors have been pouring into real estate projects and capital expansion of business. A sizable chunk of Portland’s development likely could have been redirected to Vancouver had the city leaders exercised their sales skills. The city stands to benefit in the form of increased property values, improved infrastructure partly or completely offset by development fees, and additional revenue from increased local productivity.

I have several projects listed on the “Urban Pipeline” page right here.  These are a few that really should be moving at a faster pace:

  • Marathon Development, Aegis at the Academy
  • Killian Pacific, Library Square
  • Gramor Development, Block 2 Waterfront Office Tower
  • Summit Development Group, Timberhouse
  • Cascadia Development Partners, The Aria
  • Hurley, Washington Hotel

There are many more. I understand the process from proposed to ground breaking requires a legal and bureaucratic process, but the the City of Vancouver has a reputation for being easier to work with than Portland. So why are they not aiming higher? There is still a solid export business happening in the USA right now. Factories, Law Firms, Hotels, Insurance, and more expanding operations and they should be expanding HERE in Vancouver USA rather than Portland. There are great advantages to Vancouver USA versus Portland. Taxes are generally better, quality of life for workers is definitely better. The city and local developers should not underestimate that worker quality of life, because it is a major focus among employers right now!

The city and the Port of Vancouver has skin in the game, infrastructure has been put in at great taxpayer expense and it is time to take advantage of the swollen investor and corporate cash accounts created by a booming economy before that cash is spent elsewhere or the economy takes a southerly turn, one or both of these events is inevitable. The city really needs to strike while the iron is hot.

Activity, Activity, Activity

That title sums it up well about what’s going on in Vancouver’s greater downtown area. It looks like Holland is finally getting started on Tower 4 at Vancouver Center, the construction fencing is up and one of the lanes on Washington Street is blocked for construction access. I believe that tower should go up pretty quick since all of the underground and infrastructure is already in place. Meanwhile the staging area on Block Ten looks ready as well.

Kirkland Tower and the Indigo Hotel are in ‘high-rise’ mode now as they raised the tower crane up to 250 feet recently. They should be working at a feverish pace because the FAA will only allow that crane at that height in that location until the early autumn.

IMG_20190304_120501.jpgI am still wondering why Cascadia Development seems to be motionless, “seems” is the operative word, I have no idea what they are doing behind the scenes regarding the Aria project at 6th and Esther. That project was originally called “The Esther” and was to rise 6 floors with a 144 units, but now has been renamed and will still rise 6 floors but only 127 units. All that has happened externally on this one is the erection of a pretty sign showing the rendering of the project.

The Columbian reported two weeks ago that Waterfront developer Gramor indicated the highly anticipated parking garage structure is on track for sooner, rather than later. 2021 is the new target date for completion. The beautiful weather brought thousands to the waterfront yesterday and all 4 blocks of surface parking were fairly packed. Sooner seems to be the better option. The article indicated the structure would have 740 spaces on 7 levels along with some retail/commercial space and would serve business and public interest at the waterfront. It is further reported it will have a pleasant looking design to flow with properties underway and built already. It is planned for Block 7 just north of the new Riverwest Apartment building.

I have mentioned over the last several months that the city needs to be mindful of our local homeless population. This is a sensitive subject and one that tests our very humanity. Many people due to either circumstances beyond their control or to their own poor choices, find themselves on the streets.

Last summer a very large group of homeless camps were concentrated in an area Downtown west of the County Government Center and east of the rail yard. That entire area was filled with hundreds of homeless tent sites and it was to say the least, a health risk area. That region is a very short walk to the new Waterfront as well as Esther Short Park. Millions of dollars of public funds have been used for infrastructure and tax incentives for redevelopment and it is imperative that we not allow these public spaces to be overrun with homeless and unsanitary conditions.

Much to my surprise, I noticed this weekend as I was driving around the area, nary a single tent was erected. The city is making a push to create a destination zone and that will fail should the area start looking like Portland’s waterfront. Perhaps Vancouver’s ambitious redevelopment of the former Fish and Wildlife office near Fourth Plain and Grand into a homeless shelter and service center has helped get many of these people off the streets. That is good for the homeless people and good for the downtown and new waterfront.

Things are looking good and that will bring companies, residents, tourists, and businesses to our bustling downtown region.


This Summer will Test the Waterfront

The next few months are a big period for the new waterfront. Several new businesses will open, the Riverwest Apartment Building will start leasing, and the tourists, whether local or visitors will either show up in droves… or not.

The waterfront has been limited up until just recently to the first two restaurants to open, Twigs Bistro and Wildfin. I have been to both multiple times and my experience has been more than pleasant each time. They seem to be fairly busy and that is a good thing. More ‘competition’ is on the way and that is also coming at a time when more permanent local residents are coming as well.

Regarding permanent local residents, The Riverwest Apartments will open this summer. It is important to note the Rediviva opened in December and has filled nicely, although they still have units to rent. These are luxury level apartments. There are only 63 units in the Rediviva whereas Riverwest is a much larger building with 207 units. I have done the tour of Rediviva and it is a very nice building with excellent amenities. It has a distinct modern motif and the location is undeniably fantastic. Riverwest appears to coming in with similarly high rents and my concern is whether they can fill that building. This is a tough time for the waterfront because it is only just starting to build out. Those that are living there now are enjoying that brand new euphoria, but how log will that last? This is an area that for all intents should be a perpetual construction zone for the next several years. It is imperative that progress continue towards that vision of a vibrant urban neighborhood with a buzz of positive activity.

Vancouver has placed some heavy emphasis on creating an urban neighborhood with a design around attracting visitors as well as permanent residents. I liken their efforts to what I have seen in Victoria, BC. Now in all reality, Victoria has a long head start on anything Vancouver USA is doing right now, but the parallels are there, none-the-less.

The city will have to make some hard decisions to protect the tourism in the area. Our region is well known for having substantial migrant and homeless populations. Our southern neighbor Portland has a serious problem with ‘illegal’ camping all over the downtown area including the ‘tourist’ spots. That city is dirty, dank, and undesirable to visit. Yet Portland city leaders have done little to curb the problem as far as any casual observer can tell.

Homelessness is a real problem and there are many people who have opinions on how to help people avoid this situation, great compassion is needed, but so may be a stern and heavy hand. One thing must be clear; the city cannot allow the new waterfront to descend into a homeless encampment zone. There will be some groups that take offense to any attempt to thwart people from living on the streets at the Waterfront, but the whole project is doomed to fail if the city doesn’t keep the area clean. Portland has already lost much of its ‘luster’ and people are flocking to the waterfront here, because it is in fact NOT PORTLAND, let’s try to keep it that way, shall we?


It’s Time to Focus on Jobs

Vancouver has done a great job transforming the downtown and the waterfront into destination locations. But now the city needs to focus specifically on attracting quality employers to the area. There is a huge demand for housing in Clark County because many people want to live here rather than in Oregon. But we have not been adding jobs as fast as we are adding homes and that needs to change.

Vancouver’s amazing Port facilities can offer manufacturing and distribution companies the best operating conditions in the entire USA! Washington State enjoys the lowest electric power rates in America and the port has recently upgraded nearly all of its infrastructure.

This booming economy is the perfect time for companies to come to America’s Vancouver for an opportunity to expand or relocate to one of the country’s hottest regions. With nearly 1 in 3 workers currently driving into Portland for employment, Clark County and in particular Vancouver is ripe for a larger employer to build a factory, distribution center or regional office HQ. The employees are already here and they will leave their Oregon employer in a heartbeat to work a comparable job locally.

Bringing in larger, better quality employers will help keep the whole machine running smooth and during this strong economy is the time to do it.

Excellent Sales Activity!

This week saw a pretty nice run of Pending and Closed sale son urban condos across a broad range of pricing. Several units in Northwynd at Columbia Shores either closed or went pending this week. A couple of pending sales in Shorewood as well as Parkview at Vancouver Center. In the upper range a unit went pending at Tidewater in the $1 million range and two nice units at Viewpoint $699k and $950k went pending this week.

Things are looking strong for Vancouver USA and the urban condo market. If the economy can continue to push favorably forward this summer should bode well as the Waterfront project continues to bring more exciting restaurants, services and development to the area.

New Plans for Block Ten Emerge

I have been watching the news on the developments for Block Ten just north of Vancouver Center. Plans for an 11 Story mixed use building with a grocer on the ground level have been scratched. Gramor Development, one of the best at developing grocer and neighborhood retail has been unable to secure a grocery tenant. According to an article last week in the Columbian, the grocery industry is skittish about brick and mortar locations under the changing landscape including giant Amazon and their deliver service.

I still feel that Amazon and other delivery services are shacked by the higher security residential building in a downtown environment. I believe that Downtown can support a grocery store with a lower than average shopper density than suburban stores need because of the secure space deterrent to delivery.

But the city, rightfully so, needs to do something with Block Ten. It’s a giant under utilized publicly owned space and they need to get something done NOW, while there is money in the economy to build it.

Holland Partner Group, a large urban residential developer that currently operates out of the 7th floor of 1111 Main Street, is planning on building a new 11 story Corporate HQ on the site. They own the Vancouver Center Tower 1 apartment building and is building the Tower 4 project right now. Holland is a pretty big outfit that tends to run under the radar.

They were considering a move to a suburban campus in Camas last year but are going to capitalize on the opportunity zone Downtown. Honestly, I thought they were silly to go to a suburban campus when all of their projects are high density, city center  developments often in the core districts of major US cities, like Seattle and Denver. They really ought to have a Downtown urban HQ, right?

The new project will also include a 7 story residential building designed to suit the needs of middle class renters or buyers at 80% of the local median income. The Columbian piece went on to describe a fast track style of development that Holland is willing to take on which will result in ground breaking this year, instead of late next year as the Gramor project was likely to do.

Although I personally am disappointed that a grocer has yet to emerge Downtown, I am overjoyed that the Block Ten development is coming sooner rather than later. I am also delighted that Vancouver will retain a fantastic local business that employs nearly 200 people in good paying jobs.

Positive Changes to Washington’s Condo Laws

The Columbian reported last week that there have been some positive changes to Washington’s 30 year old laws on Condominiums. Senate Bill 5334 passed unanimously in both chambers of the state legislature and has been signed into law by the governor. The law makes some much needed amendments to the Washington Condominium Act of 1989.

The original law created a great deal of “gray area” with regards to implied warranties and defects that often led to lawsuits against the builder. Although some suits are unavoidable, much of this litigation over the years has turned out to be frivolous and damaging to the public interest.

It seems that our state government is out to ease the problems while maintaining safety and consumer protections. Holy cow, did our government just get something right? WOW! That rarely happens and to have unanimous support is truly remarkable. Now if we could only export some of that cooperation to Washington DC, that would be awesome.

We shall see how it all shakes out, the law goes into effect on July 28th. I would imagine that the waterfront will benefit greatly from this new legislation. Many builders have been shy to build condos especially in the affordable price ranges because of the inability to get financing. That lack of financing was often due to investor fear of lawsuits.

Perhaps now some of these proposed condo towers for the waterfront will get started.

AC Marriott Progressing

The AC Marriott hotel slated to rise up as the first project in the Terminal One redevelopment has moved to the final stages of prep. A Columbian article showed an updated rendering of the project that is slightly scaled back from the 9 story 160 room concept to a 7 story 150 room hotel.

Vancouver based Vesta Hospitality is contracted to manage the project. Details released in the article say that the hotel will not have a rooftop restaurant after all. They cited the abundance of restaurants going in next door at Vancouver Waterfront for deleting that from the plans. Hmm, I don’t think you can have too many rooftop restaurants 😉

The ground needs to be shored up to meet earthquake standards so roughly $3 million is set aside to begin ground prep. The project nearly died due to increasing costs associated with the construction and the aforementioned ground work. However, the recent tax changes and Vancouver’s decision to include Terminal One in an opportunity zone led to the numbers penciling out again.

The Hotel should break ground later this year with hotel operations beginning in the first half of 2021. There is a flurry of urban hotel rooms going into both Downtown and the Waterfront, but that new area is already becoming quite the tourist attraction and that is only going to get better as the development continues to expand.

Activity Up, Prices Steady

Downtown Vancouver is seeing some robust activity in the low to middle priced urban condo market right now. New units have come online over the last couple of weeks but units are selling as well. There has been a sizable load of activity in the Parkview Condo Tower at 701 Columbia this year.

Parkview is in the unique position of offering relatively affordable units that can be purchased for less than or very near to the price of a rental unit. In fact the building just south of Parkview is a nearly identical but slightly shorter tower with all rental units.

I believe the excitement over the waterfront and the local tight rental market has put positive pressure on the entry-level to mid-priced condos and Parkview is where most of those are located in the downtown core area.

In other urban living news, Riverwest Apartments are very near complete. I would imagine they will start leasing soon with delivery sometime in the late spring.