The proposed Columbia River waterfront development is the right next step for the City of Vancouver. Involving the transformation of 32 acres of defunct industrial land along downtown Vancouver’s southernmost riverfront property – formerly home to Boise Cascade – the multi-use project is an integral component of revitalizing the downtown core while alleviating urban blight. It will provide our community with much-needed jobs and our citizens with significant new access to the waterfront. In addition, it will create new residential, office, shopping and retail opportunities for our City’s core.
In terms of jobs and revenues, this project has strong economic development aspects. First, hundreds of construction jobs will be made available during the 10- to 15-year life of the project’s build-out, and approximately 3,500 permanent jobs are expected to be created on the waterfront. Second, the revenue from this development will be a boon to the City’s coffers. In addition to revenue in the form of sales tax on construction, the City will benefit from sales and business and occupation tax as well as property taxes.
The project certainly has its challenges. Regarding the project’s residential component, the condominium market is nonexistent today and is likely to remain so for some time. Notwithstanding the excellent track record of Gramor Development and the blue-chip nature of its investors, the substantial debt financing that will be important to this project’s success will be difficult to achieve in the current financial environment and even in the foreseeable future. Although most of the $42 million in funding for infrastructure costs appears to be available from federal, state and local sources, the construction and full funding of the necessary infrastructure for this project are monumental tasks.
This development should not be viewed by the City of Vancouver as a stand-alone project. The City must ensure that this project becomes an extension of the revitalization of the City’s core. The new access created to the waterfront does not just go one way to the project. It goes two ways between the waterfront area and downtown. If the City does not view it as part of a comprehensive economic development effort, then there is every opportunity for the City’s downtown to see a significant decline as it did in the early 1970s with the development of the Vancouver Mall.
I challenge our City leaders to ensure that the waterfront development acts as a new catalyst for the continued redevelopment of all of downtown Vancouver. Transportation shuttles, joint retail promotions and generally tying both areas together as part of the City’s core are just a few of the things the City can do to ensure that both downtown and the waterfront thrive.
Bravo to Gramor and the City for doing their best to make this project a reality and for investing in Vancouver’s long-term growth and vitality.