By Aaron Corvin, March 2, 2015, The Columbian
The Port of Camas-Washougal is poised to launch several major construction projects, including a park and trail, and a building that will enable an existing tenant to expand.
It’s all part of the port’s $6.1 million capital spending plan for this year. The budget includes the $2.2 million construction of a 5.73-acre park and 0.7-mile trail at a waterfront property west of Washougal’s downtown; the $2.8 million construction of Building 17, a 25,000-square-foot addition to the port’s Steigerwald Commerce Center; and the $1.1 million replacement of C-Row, the 10-bay building at Grove Field Airport that was lost in early October when a fire tore through it.
Work on the park and trail is expected to begin this summer and wrap up this fall. Reconstruction at the airport will follow a similar timeline. Building 17, slated to break ground in late spring or summer, is expected to be finished in January.
The projects reflect a shift for the port, moving from a planning stage to a building phase as its role in east Clark County’s economic development takes further shape.
Commissioner Mark Lampton, one of three elected port commissioners, said it’s all about the port’s focus on quality of opportunity and of place. Rejuvenation of the waterfront parcel “means a lot for the community,” he said. The site “was gone to the community a few years ago,” Lampton added, “and we got it back.”
‘Everything lined up’
The port is borrowing a total of $4.05 million to help pay for the new park and trail, and to foot the bill for building improvements — primarily Building 17.
During its regular public meeting on Jan. 20, the port’s board approved the sale of two general obligation bonds: $1 million in tax-exempt bonds to help pay for the park and trail, and $3.05 million in taxable bonds, the bulk of which will fund the $2.8 million construction of Building 17.
Lampton and Commissioner Bill Macrae-Smith voted to approve the resolution authorizing the bond offerings. Commissioner Bill Ward cast the dissenting vote. Ward said he voted “no,” in part, because he wanted more time to understand how a bond issue achieves its tax status. If more of the total bond issue could be made tax exempt, he said, then perhaps the port could further lower its interest expenses.
The information about how bonds qualify for a certain tax status, “was promised to me,” Ward said. “It was subsequently provided. I wanted it before approving (the resolution).”
Lampton said there was no reason to wait, that the port had “plenty of opportunity” to discuss the matter. “We have everything in place, we have everything lined up,” he said. “I have great faith in staff.”
Minutes of the Jan. 20 meeting show the port’s bond counsel, Scott McJannet of the K&L Gates law firm, noting that tax-exempt bonds used to help fund the park and trail are available only “for public spaces not private use.”
Although his concerns have “been allayed somewhat” since the vote, Ward said, he remains disappointed the commission didn’t wait for more information, “particularly since there was no urgency.”
Otherwise, Ward said, he supports the port’s capital projects. As to the port’s ability to pay back what it’s borrowing, Ward said he has no worries. “We’re in very good shape.”
Coming to fruition
To cover the cost of building the waterfront park and trail, the port will combine the $1 million in tax-exempt financing with a $1.2 million grant from the Washington state Recreation and Conservation Office for a total of $2.2 million in funding.
The park and trail improvements would complement a longer-term initiative: redeveloping a 40-acre waterfront site that’s 1.5 miles west of Washougal’s downtown and bounded by Highway 14 and the Columbia River. The waterfront site includes a former lumber mill parcel. The port owns about 67 percent of the overall site, while Killian Pacific, the Vancouver-based commercial real estate developer, owns 33 percent of it through its affiliate, Parkers Landing LLC.
Meanwhile, the 25,000-square-foot Building 17 will be built next to the 22,300-square-foot building used by Foods in Season, a longtime port tenant and gourmet fresh food supplier.
John Anderson, the company’s president, said he plans to lease roughly 60 percent of Building 17, including moving about 4,000 square feet of storage space there from another building that’s further away. Logistically, he said, the move will make the company more efficient.
What’s more, he said, the company is outgrowing its 22,300-square-foot facility and expects to use more of Building 17 to absorb the expansion. Foods in Season currently employs 40 full-time workers, Anderson said, and plans to bring on 20 more over the next three years.
The port’s $1.1 million replacement of C-Row, the 10-bay building at Grove Field Airport, is covered by insurance. Eight new hangars will be installed, with two permanently lost because of current fire code standards. Instead of building two new hangars, the port will replace another building, damaged by a windstorm, with a new structure that will include space for a flight school.
David Ripp, the port’s executive director, said he’s excited about the construction work to come. “Everything we planned and started talking about two years ago, it’s starting to come to fruition now,” he said.