Another Crane Rises

Before I begin, a little urban condo update. Local inventory was squeezed tighter again this week with three pending sales, and two closed sales but nary a new a listing. Good news in the urban condo market in Vancouver.

OxBlue project cam for Angelo 300 Mill Plain.

I drove by the construction site for Al Angelo’s new office – mixed use tower going up on Mill Plain. A tower crane is under construction to support the project. If that crane is fully erected before Kirkland pulls down the crane on the nearly topped out waterfront tower that bears his name, we shall have three tower cranes active downtown again. Angelo has also added a OxBlue project camera on his other Mill Plain tower next door. I like the project cameras, it is fun to watch these urban developments go up, kudos Mr. A.

For those that wonder why I blather on about tower cranes, I mentioned the urban economic status afforded to cities with lots of crane activity in a post on the ‘Couv’ Life a few weeks back, click here. RLB is a firm that actually tracks tower crane activity in several large cities in North America. Seattle has been at the top of that list for three years running. Regarding cranes, there is a distinct likelihood that Vancouver’s downtown will have at least four cranes up simultaneously in 2020 even though Kirkland’s crane is coming down soon. In my nearly 20 years here, I can’t remember that many up at once.

I am not sure they will use a tower crane on the AC Marriott Hotel under construction now at the Terminal One site, they will almost certainly do so for the recently started Columbia project on Block 20 at the waterfront. Assuming both projects end up with a tower crane by spring, The Aria crane and Angelo’s crane will both be up as well for a total of four active cranes Downtown. It is also possible that the Springs Retirement tower and the long awaited Timberhouse could start in 2020 and both of those projects will require a tower crane. Furthering the potential for crane-o-topia in the ‘Couv’ is the Block 2 waterfront office tower Gramor has planned. Since the Murdock is nearly fully leased, that building is primed to go up in Vancouver’s tight office market. That will be a tall structure and certainly require a tower crane as well. How cool would that be? Then there is the Aegis at the Academy project that seems to be nearing the end of the permitting process and that very well could have a tower crane supporting the project as well. I’ll have a difficult time concealing my glee should the ‘Couv’ have more than half a dozen cranes at once Downtown. Geez, I’m having trouble concealing it with just the notion of such an event šŸ™‚

For the Portland based readers of this urban news blog, yes we are well aware that according to RLB, Portland has 30 active cranes and that Vancouver is not going to have that many anytime soon or probably ever, but Vancouver doesn’t need to have 30 cranes to be a roaring success. Vancouver USA is not the service core of the Metro Area. Portland has enough high rises and skyscrapers that all of their current activity will not drastically change the Rip-City skyline. Vancouver on the other hand, is seeing a dramatic change to the skyline that is noticeable even to the layperson unfamiliar with the city. There is an urban evolution occurring in Vancouver USA right now that is transforming the caterpillar into a cosmopolitan butterfly. For those watching across the river on Hayden Island the skyline is completely different and definitely more impressive.

Where our notably smaller but the none-the-less robust urban development succeeds, is cementing the concept of Vancouver as a satellite city to Portland and NOT a suburb of Portland.


All Quiet on the Urban Front

That title may seem odd with all the construction activity in and around Downtown Vancouver. There is quite a bit going on but as far as news updates, it is rather quiet. The projects that are underway are moving along nicely but the city has been a bit quiet regarding projects currently under review, such as the Aegis at the Academy, Jefferson Street Apartments, Hyatt Hotel on Washington Street, Block Ten, etc. The CCRA has made some last minute agenda adjustments lately as well. In the past the CCRA December meeting has had some solid presentations for projects and updates to the proposals for larger urban projects so I look forward to next months meeting. Other projects that had traction a year ago and news buzz, seem to be eerily silent now. Summit Development Group and their CLT Timberhouse proposal for Block 3 on the waterfront has not had an update it months nor is it in the city review pipeline. Likewise the Kaiser+PATH Group in Portland proposed building the “Trestle” earlier this year on Block 14 waterfront, another high rise CLT project, but their website is clearly showing a focus on other projects mostly in Portland.

There is still a great deal of venture capital and investment cash floating around the economy and Vancouver officials and developers need to get their hands on more of it. Washington State is a much better tax environment for office professional industries and working with the City of Vancouver is much better for businesses than working with the militant Portland government.

Vancouver also has a great opportunity to attract Seattle business as companies in that expensive market could feel tremendous relief here with our better quality of life, lower cost of real estate and ambitious local government. Seattle corporate expansion and or relocation remain in Washington State making the transition relatively smooth. Office space is tight in Vancouver but many developers are nervous about building expensive high density office space without a large anchor tenant lined up in advance. The citizens of Vancouver have a vested interest in the well being of community and more quality high paying jobs is in the interest of the people. So the city can certainly allocated some resources to attracting large quality employers to the region. The list of disgruntled Portland business grows daily and they should be headed to Vancouver USA not Beaverton, Hillsboro, or Clackamas County.

On the condo scene last week was a push with about as many new listings as new sales. Things are looking solid in America’s Vancouver.

Local Urban Condo Inventory Tightens Again

This weeks activity saw some additional tightening in inventory for Vancouver urban condos in the Downtown and waterfront areas. There were two new listings and seven new pending sales along with a closed sale. That is the biggest one week tightening I have seen this year!

Urban condos are a sub market in real estate that often is a non-correlating market. That is to say, this sub-market often acts independently from the real estate market as a whole. In major US cities like Seattle and Portland where there is both a local acceptance and a larger urban living market, it will correlate a little closer than in an ‘up and coming’ urban market like Vancouver.

Kirkland Tower is the taller building under the crane

I’m seeing trends in our urban market suggesting there could be a stronger than average demand for our urban units. The excitement for our region has intensified with the success of the waterfront expansion and that is certainly spilling over into the Columbia Shores, Tidewater, and Downtown neighborhoods. At this time there are no completed condo units on the new waterfront. The 12 story Kirkland Tower is under construction and will bring 40 high end luxury condo units on floors 2-11 to the waterfront. For now, only rental units are available and hundreds more units will come to market over the next 12-18 months.

Gramor Development is planning a 14 story 80 unit condominium project on Block 16. I would imagine we will hear more about that project after units start selling in Kirkland. The success of Kirkland will likely play a role in the pricing level and size of condos that will go into the project on Block 16.

Vancouver has a smaller proportion of condo units relative to rental units in the urban core than say Portland’s Pearl District and South Waterfront neighborhoods. This positive action in the local urban condo market, particularly in the high end units at Viewpoint, Meriwether, and Tidewater show that Vancouver is becoming a stronger urban destination for buyers as well as renters.

Block Two Proposal

The most important thing Vancouver city officials can do is promote the Downtown area for more commercial office tenants that bring high paying professional jobs to the urban core. Architects, Lawyers, Doctors, Engineering Firms, and the like employ highly educated, well paid personnel in class A office settings. These professionals are often far better off in the Washington State tax environment than in Oregon. We are an easy sell and our inventory of commercial office space is fairly tight at the moment, so some extra positive market pressure will make some of the proposed office towers financially attractive to investors starting with Gramor’s Block 2 proposal on the waterfront. Gramor already has Colliers International real estate firm marketing space for lease and the building is still in the planning stages. This gives potential lessees an opportunity too secure space in a structure that is still at least 24 months away from occupancy, and make all the business planning and adjustments with ample time.

I see companies like Holland Partner Group located in Vancouver that do large scale high-rise projects in major cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, and Portland. How many Portland based architects, developers, and engineering firms could move to Vancouver, keep all their Portland clients and enjoy a better work-life balance, lower commercial rents, and much more favorable taxation? City leaders have to sell that, Portland companies often live inside the ‘Portland Bubble’ they won’t likely find us on their own. The more urban commercial and industrial jobs we create here, the less cars are on our two Columbia River bridges.

Let’s keep the good times rolling here in America’s Vancouver.

Latest Buzz

Kirkland Tower is getting close to topping out. They are under a bit of a crunch as the FAA height restriction variance for the 250 foot tower crane expires this month. They are working on completing the 11 story super structure, I’d imagine the 12th floor rooftop penthouse and patio won’t need the tower crane. It looks like they have 9 floors built up and as of yesterday were working on the tenth floor. Kirkland Tower will have super premium condos, that take full advantage of the waterfront location and the amenities of the attached 8 story Hotel Indigo that topped out last month.

Last week’s CCRA meeting had updates for the City of Vancouver’s vision for the waterfront gateway area south of city hall and north of the BNSF Railway. I’m awaiting the release of any new information on this new development zone.

Last month the CCRA got a preview of the updated Holland Partner Group proposal for Block Ten which was met with mostly favorable response. That updated plan will be presented at the city pre-application conference this week. Hopefully some additional details will become available. This project is supposed to break ground this year to take advantage of expiring incentives. It will include a 4 story office building on top of ground level retail and two floors of parking. Also a residential tower with five floors of apartments stacked over mixed use ground level and again 2 floors of parking. It will be nice to have that long empty block built up with an enduring project.

I noticed that construction fencing has gone up around Block 20 on the waterfront. Also construction fencing went up around Block 19 but I suspect that Block 19 will serve as a staging lot for the fairly large project on Block 20. On Saturday there was equipment and supplies being unloaded on both lots.

This will be a 7 story apartment building with a similar size and scope of Riverwest on Block 8. Unlike Riverwest, this project is not expected to have a mixed use element and should be all residential. Jackson Square Properties out of San Francisco is the developer and they must be close to getting permits. The City of Vancouver project site still has it “under review” but I think they are probably already approved or very near approval.

I also noticed construction fencing has been in place for quite awhile around the Library Square property owned by Killian Pacific, but no activity appears to happening. This is a really important block and I feel like we need to get moving on it. Killian already got postponed a decade after the ‘Great Recession’ hit in 2008, another economic slowdown could cause more delays in the future. Why not get going now while real estate investment money is flowing like the Columbia River in springtime!

Marathon unveiled their phase two proposal for the Academy despite any actual activity at phase one. I think this also could be indicative of them feeling close to approval for permits on Aegis phase one. I like the Aegis project and would love to see them start on it before the end of the year.

Cascadia Development Partners is fast at work on the Aria. This is a 6 story apartment and townhouse residential building going up on West 6th just west of Esther Short Park almost ‘catty corner’ from City Hall.

Cascadia did the Uptown Apartments on Main Street and West McLoughlin. They did a fantastic job on that project. It opened in 2018 and they managed to get the building quickly leased. They were not as successful on the retail part, but they still got that building sold a year after it opened for a tidy profit. The building cost $45 million to build and opened in January 2018, it sold in May of this year for $57 million. The investors should be happy with their performance on that project. I think the Aria will be even better. The construction costs will be substantially lower (Estimated at $26 million) since it is a more simple approach, with a much easier excavation. The location is amazing. Cascadia should hit a home run with this project.

I’m hoping we will hear more from Cascadia about the full city block bounded by Main Street, West 15th, Washington Street, and West 16th. They have had a large development sign up with a leasing info contact, and some press reports about having something lined up for that block. That is an important block as it is visible to everyone visiting Downtown that uses the Mill Plain off ramp. I hate dead blocks!

Prestige Development is very close to opening the Our Heroes apartment buildings on East 13th at E Street. They have the clock/temp digital sign working on the top of the North Tower (Ed Tower).

The Columbian reported about two new ‘restaurants’ opening Downtown. A ‘Country Bar’ called “Six Shooter” should keep our ‘urban cowboys’ entertained and a Georgian restaurant called “Dediko” add to the expanding diversity of food and drink in our urban core.

The urban condo scene was business as usual with no new inventory but one unit returned to market after being pending for a couple of weeks and a few price changes and closings as well.

The Positive Activity Continues

Cascadia Development Partners got their bright red tower crane erected last week and construction on the Aria project is well underway. That project is in a great spot for tenants looking to capitalize on both the Waterfront and Esther Short Park. Looks like a nice project.

Kirkland topped out the Hotel Indigo a week or two ago and the Kirkland Tower Condo project is up to the ninth floor. They may be a bit under the gun as the FAA has only cleared them to use the 250 foot tower crane until the end of this month. They need to get the final floors done ASAP. Kirkland Tower is on my radar since it will be the first home ownership opportunity on the new waterfront. These units will not come cheap, but they will likely still sell quickly. This is a somewhat unique project as it looks like one large building it is actually two separate structures in a co-joined type arrangement. The 12 story Kirkland Tower will have access to some of the hotel services and amenities.

The Columbian had an article in yesterday’s paper about a tight office rental market in Vancouver. As I was reading the article I started to wonder why the heck Holland Partner Group scaled back the office tower portion of their project on Block Ten Downtown. The article continued on suggesting that despite the high demand and super low vacancy rates in Vancouver office buildings, developers are still playing it safe, often trying to get key anchor tenants lined up before pushing the project through the permitting process. That makes sense actually and it solidifies my earlier prediction that Holland may also be under a time issue to take advantage of incentives that expire soon. The taller project would certainly be a bit more time consuming.

Thursday the CCRA (City Center Redevelopment Authority) will meet and the city has the agenda posted. Nothing further on Block Ten, but I have seen them add stuff last minute, so I am watching closely for additional details. One thing on the agenda is further discussion about the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) issued by the City last month regarding the area now called ‘Waterfront Gateway’. This entire area is almost completely owned by Vancouver city government agencies and a sizable portion is being used as surface parking. I am hoping that this new development zone mandates structured parking for the public. Perhaps the CCRA will have more details on the future of this area. The city has a fast-track approach in the MOU to have preliminary work done this year and to select a ‘master developer’ in the first half of 2020. They also want to have a full master plan ready for approval by Q2, 2021.

The Columbian also had an article yesterday regarding a new effort to get things rolling on the Interstate Bridge Replacement. I have opined greatly on the subject and my concerns include the lack of respect for both the Columbia River and Vancouver’s Downtown by the Portland and Oregon officials. The last bridge design was hideous and devoid of character. Vancouver should not tolerate any bridge design that is ugly. The new project may have to be a concrete design but we can add some architectural style to offset the blight of a large concrete bridge. We have poured hundreds of millions of dollars in both public and private funds into the improvements to our wonderful waterfront, another two billion or so will flow in over the next several years, we cannot afford to ruin the beauty of the waterfront with a Frankenstein bridge!

Things are rolling right along in Urban Vancouver.

Vancouver has Low Violent Crime Rate, Despite Last Week’s Incident

Last week I had a few errands to run Downtown. I was heading west on SR-14 and took the Downtown ramp. The 6th street exit was blocked off with Police activity and as I navigated around the closure I quickly discovered that something rather major was going on. Vancouver Police had several blocks barricaded and there were scores of patrol cars from multiple agencies converged at Smith Tower Apartments. The VPD Command Center was there, the SWAT team, the whole deal. A local news helicopter hovered over downtown while the police did their work.

Smith Tower Apartments, taller building on right

As it turns out, an 80 year old resident of Smith Tower allegedly decided to settle a dispute with another resident with violence. The man reportedly shot three people in the lobby of the building killing one of them.

Vancouver has a very low rate of this kind of crime. We enjoy a homicide rate well under the national average for mid to large sized cities. But the ugliness of violence does occasionally appear as it did last week. In this particular case, it was in a rather unexpected location, the senior living apartments at Smith Tower where residents are required to be at least 62 years old.

These kinds of incidents get a lot of news exposure and can sometimes lead the unaware to a conclusion that isn’t necessarily accurate. Between 2003 and 2017 Vancouver hasn’t had more than 9 homicides in any year and three of those years had ZERO! The whole Portland-Vancouver Metro Area is relatively light on violent crimes. That is a good thing.

Having an army of police converge on a building for several hours can be a distraction from the much more typical, walk-able, fun living opportunity in our excellent downtown and waterfront areas.

Activity in the local urban condo market was quiet and neutral with one closed, two pending, and two new listings. The inventory is adequate for demand and seems to favor neither buyers nor sellers.

Latest Urban Buzz

There is a lot of activity happening in Urban Vancouver these days. I’ll go over some updates to the ‘Urban Pipeline’ as well as urban condo activity. The urban projects list saw quite a bit of revision and additions over the last few weeks and the condo activity remains solid.

The most recent CCRA (City Center Redevelopment Authority) meeting on the 19th featured the Holland Partner Group’s presentation on their revised Block Ten proposal. Originally they indicated they would have an 11 story office tower, a 2-3 level parking garage, and a 7 story residential tower. The garage is now slated to cover most of the block with two levels and retail store fronts along the perimeter. The residential tower remains intact as five floors of apartments over two floors of parking/retail. The office tower has been scaled down to 4 floors of office over two floors of parking/retail. Holland officials cited among other things the construction expenses associated with a high rise structure versus the more affordable options available in mid-rise buildings.

My concern is that if Holland is unable to pencil a large office tower then other potential firms may not find it feasible either. Vancouver needs the housing they are building and deserve kudos for getting some excellent projects from paper to product. Downtown also needs more good paying jobs and office towers are certainly a place where companies employ highly educated and skilled personnel. Holland should have been able to feel confident in building that original tower. City leaders need to put a committee together to drive business to the Downtown. This may mean sending delegations to major urban centers like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston to pitch the ‘Couv’ as an excellent regional HQ locale or even a full company relocation and/or expansion. There are a lot of tower cranes over in Portland, some of those should be here instead of there.

Block ten is an ideal spot for something taller. Riverview Tower and Vancouver Center are just north and south respectively and feature taller structures. I suppose the tenants in the south facing upper floors of Riverview Tower are delighted with the new shorter building proposal as are those in Vancouver Center Tower 3 at 700 Washington Street.Ā  Holland is planning on getting this project started early in 2020 so the smaller building may also help get the project moving faster. There is a time sensitive issue surrounding the opportunity zone requiring certain things be done THIS year. That may be as much a reason to scale back the office tower as actual expenses. Honestly, I hope that it is more about time than financial viability. I do want to see that block developed sooner rather than later. I hate empty downtown lots, they are effectively a blight.

The Academy released information about Marathon’s plans for a second phase at the Academy site. You may remember that they are pushing the project called ‘Aegis’ through the permitting process and should break ground sometime in the next 6 months. Phase two is similar and will occupy the north side of the 7 acre Academy complex. The drawings released show the local landmark Academy Chimney intact. The other two buildings near the chimney are too far gone to preserve. Don’t forget, that place was erected 150 years ago! I know that the Academy is an important feature in Vancouver’s downtown area and for our local history. I feel like Marathon has done a great job of incorporating elements in their modern design proposals to tie into the character of the historic Academy building. This is a good looking project. I do hope they can save the Chimney, and based on the renderings, that is clearly the intention. Some are opposed to any development on the site, these are often people who believe in the tooth fairy, and that magic money is available for preservation of historic properties. There is no tooth fairy. The Academy grounds are ragged and ugly, the main building looks great, and more money is needed to keep that structure viable in the 21st century. This project will enhance the whole block and allow the continued maintenance and upgrades to the beautiful Academy building and grounds.

On the urban condo scene no new units appeared on the market this past week. One pending unit in Columbia Shores however is back on market. There were a couple of price reductions on units that have lingered in the market for a bit. But the inventory tightened up by -2 this week.

Things are looking good in urban Vancouver.

Lower Rents, Bad Sign? Read Further!

Here is the headline from a recent Columbian article regarding the Rediviva Apartment Building at the waterfront: “Waterfront Vancouverā€™s Rediviva lowers rent, hires new management team.” At first glance this headline might conjure up some negative connotations. Is the Waterfront losing steam? Is there trouble in paradise? But as has been the case for quite some years in the click bait modern media, one must read the entire article to get the “real story.”

The article goes on to state that Rediviva is 88% rented, and with the new competitor next store, Riverwest they want to get the building fully leased by the end of the year. Rediviva has 63 units and Riverwest has 207. Rediviva opened late last year and Riverwest just opened late spring this year. Riverwest has leased to 56% in just a few short months according to direct sources cited in the article.

My two cents is simply this, Rediviva was first to the playground so they rode the carousel first. They had the ONLY riverfront apartments for more than 6 months and they leased them at top dollar, especially those fronting the river. Now they have just a handful of units left, clearly the least desirable of the building and they are discounting to get to full occupancy. In fact they have 55 of 63 units rented they need only rent 4 more units to be at 95% which is considered to be a great occupancy rate. There is no fire, no need to head for exits.

The fact that Riverwest was able to get to more than half full in just 90 days is a spectacular endorsement to the success of the Waterfront. My friends, these are not affordable units, these are luxury units. I have toured multiple apartments in both buildings and they are very nice units that command top of the market pricing. The staff at both Rediviva and Riverwest were friendly, informative, and cheerful. Both of these apartment projects are a tremendous success, if anyone expected better results they are being unreasonable. When Riverwest reaches 75-80% occupancy, I would not be surprised to see a similar move as well to rent the remaining units that are for various reasons less desirable. Urban apartments and condos are in buildings that will have certain units in an unfavorable position, looking into another building’s windows or an obstructed view, etc. This is typical, and experienced urban developers plan for it, it should not be problematic.

Vancouver’s rental market was among the tightest in the nation and they have nowhere to go but down. The fact that 160 high end units were rented in less than a year bodes well for the project as a whole. The more development that gets going the better. I have been preaching to get these projects started while the economy is hot, and the money is flowing.

The waterfront still has most of the blocks empty and that will only be acceptable for a short period, Jackson Square Properties and Summit Development Group ought to get crackin’ on the Block 20 project and the Timberhouse on Block 3 respectively. As the neighborhood develops, it will only garner more demand as long as the economy continues to produce high paying jobs and investment money. Right now it is an incomplete project and some people will hold out until all the services are in place. A downtown grocer would also help, the city has been all over that, I imagine, they will put together a package of incentives to help land a grocer.

The Waterfront is a smashing success and it is imperative to keep the project moving forward with fresh construction underway at all times until it is built out. stagnation is the only thing that will derail the waterfront.

In closing, don’t be a headline chaser, read the article in full to get the ‘real story’.

Waterfront and Downtown are ‘Off the Vine’

Everyone knows that Portland and Vancouver have a serious craft beer scene. Vancouver has quietly become a top destination for craft breweries and at least on a per capita basis is challenging our big sister to the south.

What has happened even more quietly is our emerging wine experience. Of course Maryhill Winery opened their lovely tasting room/eatery right on the water on Block 12 but over the last few weeks announcements of 5 more tasting rooms / restaurants both on the waterfront and downtown will bring the number of wineries and tasting rooms to ten in the area from Uptown to the Waterfront.

Check this article on the beer and wine scene in The ‘Couv’ Life here.Ā 

In other news the Indigo Hotel building appears to be topped out as the beams and temporary roofing are in place above the 8th floor. Kirkland Tower still has 4 to 5 floors to go before topping out. I am very excited about the Indigo Hotel, this is a bold design and I think those that are skeptical will be amazed when this project is done. This hotel will be a first class structure. Seriously, El Gaucho is going in there, that is a pretty big endorsement. As for Kirkland Tower those units are going to be ultra premium condos in the $1-$5 million price range.

The AC Marriott Hotel project on Terminal One two blocks east of the Indigo has been under way with ground preparations. This week at the CCRA meeting on Thursday at City Hall, locally based Vesta Hospitality will make a presentation of the project as they move forward in final approval process. The project will feature parking on the second and third floors rather than underground parking. Ground level will be a mix of hotel lobby, meeting space and some retail with five floors of hotel rooms over the parking garage. The 7 story building should be relatively short in height as parking garage floors are generally shorter. I imagine there will be no issue with the FAA on this project.

At this same meeting the city will present the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the redevelopment of what the city is calling the Waterfront Gateway. This area is almost entirely owned by the City of Vancouver and includes a large parcel currently used as a surface parking lot. I think this is an important redevelopment area. It is unlikely any tall structures will go here, the City has a roughly 4-6 floor height limit in the area and that is largely due to Pearson Airfield flight paths. But having that area built up as more than a grassy field and surface parking is an important process to making the downtown and the waterfront congruous.

The published agenda for this CCRA meeting shows that there will be an update ont he Block Ten redevelopment project in which Holland Partner group has proposed a multi-tower 11 story office and 7 story residential buildings. Hopefully we will see some actual details. I’m watching this one closely.

The Columbian reported recently that local architecture firm, LSW is organizing an event called “Design Vancouver” aimed at boosting Vancouver’s reputation as a design center. This inaugural event is drawing designers from Portland and around the Metro Area. They also have a keynote speaker, Rob Bredow, who is head of Industrial Light and Magic, yes that ILM of George Lucas / Star Wars fame. That conference is scheduled for October 4-5 next month.

The condo market continues to move nicely. Several units moved to pending or sold status this past week and only a couple of new listings came online which means inventory contracted a bit more. Price ranges from the entry level to the high end all saw mostly positive activity. This market for condos isn’t what I would call “hot” but it is solid with well priced units selling promptly and only the puffed up prices are sitting longer than 60 days.

Urban living in the ‘Couv’ is getting better every day.

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 šŸ˜‰ 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’.