Community center could cost port, CWEDA head says

City, port leaders say they will still pursue multi-purpose facility

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Discussions about siting a regional Camas-Washougal community center on Port of Camas-Washougal property have been in the works for the past four months, but a recent economic analysis conducted by the head of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association (CWEDA) shows the port could lose money on the venture.

Former Camas mayor Paul Dennis, now president and chief executive officer of CWEDA, told port leaders June 18 that siting a community center on a 4-acre parcel near the waterfront could cost the port nearly $5 million in decreased land value and more than $10 million in lost development opportunities.

“If the port were to designate 4.09 acres of the waterfront for a community center, the resulting residual land value would decrease to $4.79 million; an investment loss to the port of $4.55 million,” Dennis said.

Dennis showed the port has approximately 18 acres available for commercial and mixed-use development. An initial master plan includes 202,000 square feet of retail, 32,000 square feet of office, a fuel station and an 80-room hotel with conference center.

Dennis’ study used a financial model assuming the waterfront would be built out over the next five years.

The estimated cost to develop the waterfront site, including infrastructure, site work, buildings and residual land value is $68.9 million. The residual land value at buildout is estimated at $12.5 million.

Dennis said building a community center would likely mean the port would miss out on development profits from a joint venture-equity arrangement as well as pass up potential income-producing opportunities.

“The port’s lost opportunity would be $10.3 million, or $58 per square foot for the community center property,” Dennis said.

If the port chooses to locate a community center with an indoor pool at the waterfront, Dennis said it would be best to work with a master developer to come up with a master plan and integrate the facility into the overall waterfront development.

An alternative to that would involve the port and the cities of Camas and Washougal examining sites north of state Route 14 in the Goot Park area of Camas. The park’s close proximity to the waterfront could benefit the waterfront and other nearby commercial districts, but minimize the potential financial impact to the port, Dennis noted.

Following the June 18 meeting, Port Commissioner Bill Ward said hearing Dennis’ presentation had confirmed what he already sensed.

Ward would be in favor of the port continuing the evaluation of options such as a conference and cultural complex and corporate center that he said would drive economic development, address community interests and promote the waterfront as a destination.

“We will ultimately be soliciting development proposals from a universe of qualified sources,” Ward said.

He added that, in his view, public agencies should only undertake functions that cannot be provided by the private sector.

“We have successful businesses in this community devoted to fitness, sports and recreation,” Ward said. “It isn’t appropriate for the port to compete with them and thereby dilute economic development missions.”

With a location to be determined for a community center or multi-purpose center, as some supporters are calling it, representatives from Camas, Washougal and the port plan to hold joint committee meetings to develop details of a future facility. A committee meeting date had not been scheduled as of this paper’s print deadline.

“There is still a lot of conversation that needs to take place through the advisory committee to finalize the best decision on the location of the community center,” said Port Commissioner Larry Keister.

Port Commissioner John Spencer said Dennis’ evaluation begs the question — “would the port be doing more for the community by giving up the four+ acres for a community center and pool or by spending $10 million on another capital project?”

“The community needs to decide where the best location would be,” Spencer added. “If that location is on the waterfront, then the port commission needs to weigh that against other development options and community priorities.”

Local officials agree it would be several years before a multi-use community center, serving Camas and Washougal residents, could be built, regardless of the exact location.