The southwest corner of Fourth Plain Boulevard and Fort Vancouver Way isn’t the city’s most inviting intersection. But the Clark College Foundation has lofty goals to change that.
The fundraising arm of the Vancouver community college has long had its eyes on the corner in hopes of developing a welcoming entryway to the campus just up the hill. The foundation has been steadily buying up parcels on the skinny, sharply angled corner west of Fort Vancouver Way for more than a decade, squirreling them away until the right moment to build.
“We’ve been trying to do this and still haven’t accomplished it,” said Lisa Gibert, president of the Clark College Foundation. She envisions a plaza celebrating the college’s international student body, or even — and ambitiously — incorporating housing for international students. And while Gibert hopes the foundation is nearing its goal, there have been literal and figurative roadblocks over the years.
The foundation plans to ask the city for a vacation on the alleyway south of the property. If the foundation can secure that agreement, it could use part of the vacated alleyway for development, Gibert explained. That will give more “space and flexibility” for some kind of plaza or entryway to the campus, according to a presentation to the Clark College Board of Trustees last month.
Then there’s the issue of other property owners at the corner, Gibert said, who have been reluctant to negotiate about selling their properties. Of the nine parcels immediately adjacent to Fourth Plain, the foundation owns seven — the owners of Brake Auto Service to the west and Mid City Beauty Salon in the middle are holding out.
“I don’t want to sell it,” said Som Laochumnanvanit, owner of Mid City Beauty Salon. “They’re not going to give me enough to move onto another project.”
Laochumnanvanit has owned the property since 2004. You’ve seen the cinder block building at the south end of the parcel if you’ve driven westbound on Fourth Plain Boulevard. It’s got an eye-catching sign reading “Trump + Pence = BFP,” or “Best financial president.”
“I’m not a BFP,” says Laochumnanvanit, a big Donald Trump fan.
Negotiating with Clark over the property hasn’t been successful. Laochumnanvanit graduated from Clark College in 1979, he said, and wants to work with the college on some kind of development at the corner. But Clark isn’t interested in that.
“His idea of partnering was ‘Give me the land and I’ll give it back to you,’ ” said Gibert.
Maybe the real estate mogul in the White House can help him out, Laochumnanvanit suggests with a laugh. In the mean time, he said he hasn’t seen significant enough planning to make the sale worth his while.
“I’ll just wait to see what they want to do,” Laochumnanvanit said. “But they haven’t proposed anything. At this point I’d like it to be a joint venture.”
Gibert’s still optimistic they could hold the entire frontage in the future, though.
“We have the ability of time on our side,” she said.
To those invested in seeing the corridor grow, the corner represents an opportunity. The intersection is at the west end of the Fourth Plain Business District, which business association Fourth Plain Forward is working to revitalize and promote. The area is also known as Vancouver’s International District, and Fourth Plain Forward Board President Bill Steiner said he’d love to see something at that corner that pays homage to the corridor’s diversity.
“Anything that will help enhance the International District would be absolutely fantastic,” Steiner said. “I would say international students would be extremely well-served being in this community because of the diversity we have here already.”