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?


El Gaucho coming to Indigo on the Waterfront

Vancouver’s new waterfront development just got some serious restaurant street cred with the announcement that El Gaucho will have a new restaurant located inside the new Indigo Hotel currently under construction on block 4. El Gaucho has four other locations, Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, and Portland. The Columbian reported on the announcment and added that El Gaucho will also run the ‘Sky Lounge’ planned for the eighth floor.

El Gaucho prides itself in table side preparation of dishes, high quality ingredients and a formal attire worn by the wait staff. Entreés are going to be higher than most, if not all other eateries in the Vancouver area.

I have been to the Portland location located in the Benson Hotel a number of times, all were either very special occasions or business events. For most El Gaucho is reserved for special events like a 25th wedding anniversary, or another milestone occasion as those menu prices can be cost prohibitive for middle-income earners. But the idea of being able to stay local rather than making a run down to Portland for El Gaucho, Ruth Criss, City Grill, etc. just adds to the power of the positive transformation happening on the waterfront that transcends the local project to benefit the whole county.

Some will bemoan the high values of property being erected and the higher end nature of the shops and restaurants, but one can’t expect the most premium real estate in the metro area to be used for second-hand shops, fast food, dive diners, and cheap apartments. It doesn’t work that way. There is a strong economic impact created on these types of developments that helps everyone on the economic ladder. Although most of the construction workers, electricians, plumbers, and other middle-income service providers cannot afford to live in the units being built, the billions of dollars being spent on their services may very well allow them to buy a new place of their own, or move up to the better living arrangement. Washington-based contractors should be loving this since travelling to Oregon for jobs is time-consuming and carries a heavy tax burden.

This waterfront will be a positive for the whole region, and will even prop up the whole Downtown area as it builds out. Remember, We are only at less than half built through the first of three phases to be built over the next 8-10 years.

I only hope our city leaders will do their very best to start using this exciting new development to attract some large employers to the area. Jobs are always a good boost for local economic conditions and getting 20-30 thousand of the 60 thousand plus who commute across the bridges to Portland back on ‘our side’ of the river is good for our local tax base and very good for our residents. Not to mention the reduced traffic load on the bridge.

I’ll be writing about Oregon’s aggressive highway tolling plan and the fact some Portland leaders are trying to target Washingtonians that cross the river to work. If Vancouver leaders play it right, we could get Portland employers to move over here. But they must be aggressive as well.

Joe’s and Who Song Could Become Twin Towers

photo from The Columbian, 12-12-2018

The Columbian reported last week that local developer, Dean Kirkland is proposing to replace the aged restaurants, Joe’s Crab Shack and Who, Song, and Larrys with a mixed use retail/residential complex of two buildings of at least nine floors each. Maybe a hotel as well.

In the article, Kirkland indicated he would be interested in retaining the two eateries for the new development. If approved these would be the two tallest buildings in Vancouver by floor count east of I-5. It is unlikely they would be taller in height than the 8 story Firstenburg Tower at Peace Health Hospital.

Although the waterfront and downtown have a flurry of activity including numerous mid-rise and high-rise buildings, this is the first such project proposed east of the Interstate Bridge.

Although neither restaurant is really outstanding they both offer reasonable fare, and excellent happy hour opportunities on the decks overlooking the river. Whether these two restaurants return to the development is not a major concern of mine, but another restaurant or two would be nice to keep the public interest in the waterfront area with both the trail and riverside dining. You hear that Mr. Kirkland?

More urban living opportunity is on the horizon.