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December 16, 2016

Vancouver Waterfront Project


A property that had been dedicated to a sprawling industrial site. Prime downtown real estate. Massive

public investments in infrastructure. Visions of luxury apartments, trendy restaurants and hotels, and new

public open spaces.

Not the Pearl District. Not the South Waterfront, either. Vancouver.


After a decade of debate and planning, crews have broken ground on 32 acres of waterfront land along the

Columbia River. They're making way for 21 city blocks' worth of development, including 3,300 new

residential units, more than 1.25 million square feet of office space, a luxury hotel and retail space. The total

investment is estimated to reach $1.5 billion, the biggest development project in the city's history.


City officials are also building a $30 million public park that will occupy about seven acres along a half-mile

of shoreline.

"There's not very many opportunities for this sort of thing around here," said Barry Cain, president at

Tualatin-based Gramor Development, the developer and lead investor on the project. Gramor had previously

specialized in suburban retail projects like Happy Valley Town Center and Sherwood Market Center.


It has taken a long time to get to this point. The land, previously home to a Boise Cascade paper mill, had

been inaccessible to the public for more than 100 years, until the city in 2014 spent nearly $45 million to dig

under a railroad berm and build roads underneath it, connecting the waterfront with downtown streets.


When Gramor purchased the land in 2008 from Boise Cascade for $19 million, Cain said, he was counting

on public officials to build the Columbia River Crossing, the proposed new Interstate Bridge that came with

a $3.4 billion price tag and was supposed to include light rail. The plan died amid a swarm of controversy in


Eventually, Cain said, a new interstate bridge "needs to be done," noting the congestion problems that still

plague the Portland-to-Vancouver commute. "And it will."


In the meantime, downtown Vancouver is enjoying a fresh wave of optimism as the long-awaited

development at the waterfront becomes reality. New restaurants have opened. More have been announced.

Portland's nationally renowned beer scene has moved north of the Columbia River, with at least 12

breweries opening in Vancouver in recent years.

"We're going through a pretty massive renaissance," said Chris "Salty" Reed, a former manager at Portland's

popular Screen Door restaurant who opened The Grocery Cocktail & Social restaurant in downtown

Vancouver with his wife, Cindy, in 2014. "I definitely think it is the way we should be going." Reed has

lived in Vancouver for 13 years.


The prospect of the waterfront development – and all the new workers and residents it will bring – was part

of the calculus when Reed was devising his business plan several years ago.

"There's a lot of new bars and restaurants opening," Reed said. "There still isn't a huge population for all of

us right now.

... I think to have more residents in the area is definitely going to be better for all the


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The new residents will also come with new competition for Reed. Cain envisions between eight and 10 new

restaurants, including WildFin American Grill, which was announced as an official tenant last month and

already has Washington locations in Tacoma, Renton and Issaquah. A 120-room boutique hotel, which will

also include ground-level restaurants, was announced in June.

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In addition to the public investments in infrastructure and the park, Gramor's multifamily buildings will also

be eligible for an eight-year property tax break courtesy of the city, Cain said. (Gramor donated $7 million

worth of land and improvements to facilitate the park.) Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and officials from the

city's economic development department didn't return phone calls.


For downtown boosters like Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver's Downtown Association, the

investment is already paying off.

"It's a very good time to be in business in downtown Vancouver right now," Rafferty said. "And the

waterfront only makes it better."

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