Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

If you build it…


It’s an essential ingredient for any big construction project – one that’s rarely spelled out in building proposals, applications for state or federal funding, or in agreements like one made last week between the city of Vancouver and the private investors for the proposed Waterfront Redevelopment project.

It’s also an unanswered question, buried beneath all the projections and the statistics practically guaranteeing success: If we build it, will they come?

To be sure, Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard’s advocacy of riverfront development is nothing like Kevin Costner taking baseball diamond-building dictation from a higher power in the film, “Field of Dreams.”

For starters, the proposed redevelopment site is no Iowa cornfield. It’s a plot of land a stone’s throw away from Vancouver’s existing downtown – with a planned riverside park hundreds of runners, bikers and sunbathers would flock to if given the chance.

But will condo buyers, renters and business owners follow?

Let’s hope the experience of Portland’s South Waterfront doesn’t augur the future of Vancouver’s own riverfront ambitions. Last Sunday, 40 unsold condos in the project’s 200-plus unit Atwater tower went to auction – with one real estate broker advertisement promising bids 63 percent off the listing price.

Eric Holmes, the city’s economic development director, dismissed any comparisons between South Waterfront and Vancouver’s riverfront revitalization plans. “As far as its proximity to an existing residential and commercial base, South Waterfront is pretty removed.”

According to Holmes, the proposed Vancouver project would not rely as heavily on condo units, proving so much the Achilles heel of developments past. Included in the current plans will be rental units and worker housing.

“The agreement is laid out to allow the flexibility that is necessary to match the development to market dynamics,” he said.