Big box on Washougal waterfront? Port commissioners say, ‘no’

Port leaders want to use new land for community or corporate center

Local residents who had concerns about a big box retail store locating along the Port of Camas-Washougal waterfront can rest easy, now that the Port is going to purchase 11 acres of land near Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail.

Port Commissioners authorized the purchase of the 11 acres for $5.989 million from Parker’s Landing LLC during their Nov. 21 regular meeting. The land is located on part of the former Hambleton Lumber Company property at 335 S. “A” St., Washougal.

The Port’s purchase of the 11 acres is contingent on Parker’s Landing LLC first purchasing 8.5 acres of land on the east end of the waterfront for $2.6 million. It is the commissioners’ understanding that at least some of the 8.5 acres will be developed by Parker’s Landing LLC for multi-family residential — apartments or condominiums.

The Port is not chartered to be involved in residential development that does not have commercial or retail businesses tied to it.

Parker’s Landing LLC is represented by Lance Killian, president of Killian Pacific, a commercial real estate development and investment company in Vancouver. He had no comments Tuesday, regarding Parker’s Landing’s or the Port’s future development of the waterfront.

When development options for all of the waterfront land were discussed in December of 2016, Killian said there would not be a “big box, but an attractive building(s).”

During a phone interview Monday, Port Commissioner Bill Ward said big box stores are pass?.

“The growth of online shopping is reshaping retailing patterns, how people buy things,” he said. “Big box stores are no longer the attraction that they once were.”

Ward said the Port’s intention is to develop the property in a manner that maximizes its value and return on investment to the community.

“The big box store would have been a goner, whether or not we purchased the property,” he said.

Ward said a corporate center near the waterfront would make a lot of sense, creating economic growth and employment opportunities.

“We’ve got a semi-economic crisis,” he said. “The employment in the (Camas paper) mill is slowing down. We’ve got a big responsibility to create the economic opportunities to replace those that are being lost.”

Ward said a corporate center looks good to him, because it represents jobs in the community in a knowledge economy.

The Port commission, on Nov. 7, approved the $1.22 million purchase of 2.25 acres of land located just north of Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail, from Parker’s Landing LLC. Ward wants to make the waterfront a destination by including restaurants and boutique shops.

He said a community center would be a definite draw, but Camas already has Lacamas Lake Lodge.

Regarding the potential of locating a recreation facility near the waterfront, Ward said it would not be a high priority for him.

He said the Port would have to look at the economics and determine how much community support there would be from Camas and Washougal.

“You’d have to get the two municipalities behind it,” Ward said. “We’re not in that business as a port. The community, through the port, is making a large investment. We’re responsible for ensuring that the community gets a good return on its investment.”

Port Commissioner John Spencer said the commissioners have never been thrilled with the idea of a big box store locating on the waterfront.

“Big box does not fit the character,” he said. “It’s a gorgeous place where people want to connect with the river.”

Spencer said big box stores are universally ugly and do not connect people to the river.

“They require huge parking fields,” he added. “In many ways, that’s a waste of space. I’d like to find ways to minimize parking and maximize usage.”

Anchor options, according to Spencer, include a community or business center.

He said restaurants and a hotel, as well as some level of “touristy” retail and potentially a conference center, will fit very well along the waterfront.

“The goal is a vibrant community,” Spencer said. “Define the parameters and let the private sector actually determine what goes there.”

Port Commissioner Larry Keister said there needs to be something unique for the waterfront property, to capitalize on the river.

“We need to have unique specialty shops — something that people would want to spend time in,” he said. “They could walk along the waterfront, get something to eat and enjoy the beauty of the river and the view.”

Keister mentioned a conference center, boutique hotel and art gallery as waterfront options.

He said a community or recreation center could be explored if the community wants a pool, and payment of maintenance costs would need to be determined.

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