With waterfront development on horizon, community should weigh in

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

With four development firms interested in exploring the commercial possibilities contained in 26 acres of waterfront between the cities of Camas and Washougal, now is the time for community members to think about what they would like to see happen on the former Hambleton Lumber Company property off South Second Street near the popular Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail.

The ideas flowing from the developers — all set to meet later this month with Port of Camas-Washougal staff and members of the Portland-based Leland Consulting Group, which is working with the port to help oversee this initial developer-selection process — include everything from artisan grocery stores and community centers to a waterfront hotel and access to water recreation on the Columbia River to the standard mixed-use design of residential units blended with retail shops and commercial offices.

All of the firms that submitted qualifications to the port seem to have ample experience with mixed-use projects.

One firm, the Portland-based Williams/Dame & Associates, is currently working on a public-private Willamette River-adjacent project in the city of Eugene, Oregon, projected to include nearly 300 apartments and townhomes, an affordable housing complex with at least 75 spaces, a 125-room hotel, restaurant and retail shops.

Waterfront ideas being kicked around by many longtime Washougal area residents have also focused on a professional performing arts space that might draw people from the Portland-Vancouver metro area.

In a 2018 guest column for this newspaper, Washougal psychologist and former vice president of the Clark County Arts Commission, Martha Martin, envisioned such a space.

“Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a professional performing arts and cultural center at the Washougal Waterfront Park,” Martin urged readers. “This is an iconic building, sitting close enough to the Columbia River to have tall windows that hold the view of Mt. Hood. The main portion of this building would house a theater with at least 700 seats. This fabulous building would host musical theater, dramatic and comedic performances and intimate cabaret performances. … The Vancouver Symphony could have a professional place to perform.”

Martin’s column reminded readers that many Camas-Washougal residents have been dreaming of a local performing arts center for a long time.

“In the late 1970s, a group of Washougal folks had a similar dream, and applied for a grant to build The Columbia River Cultural Center,” Martin wrote, adding the group had available land and had heard from a senator there was up to $7 million available in grant funding. “The city of Washougal, initially supportive of this grant and the center, became concerned about maintenance costs for the city. The Washougal City Council opted out of the process, and the local performing arts and cultural center never saw the light of day. The dream, however, has not disappeared.”

Although the port’s waterfront development process is still in its infancy, now is the perfect time for area residents who are passionate about seeing a specific use on the Washougal-Camas waterfront to let their voices be heard.

The port will hold a planning retreat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15, at The Heathman Lodge in Vancouver. Waterfront development is on the list of topics that will be explored during this retreat.

The public is welcome to give input to the port commissioners during this retreat, so this could be the ideal time for those interested in seeing something like a performing arts center — instead of, perhaps, the traditional mix of retail and housing — built on the prime waterfront land to speak their minds.

Can’t make the retreat? Port commissioners hold public meetings at 5 p.m., every first and third Monday of the month at the port office, 24 S. “A” St., Washougal.

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