The Hurley Tower wrapped up construction last month after more than a year, but developer Ryan Hurley is poised to jump straight back into the downtown Vancouver development scene.
His company, Hurley Development, submitted a preliminary application last week to build a new office building at the intersection of Columbia Street and Columbia Way. The project, titled Hurley Tower II, is located less than one block away from the newly completed Hurley Tower on the other side of the BNSF Railway berm.
The timing of the proposal may appear odd, given the current moratorium on construction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it takes several months to get big projects through the approval and permitting process, Hurley noted, so the tower is likely a year away from breaking ground.
“Right now is a good time to plan,” he said.
There’s another factor that looms large in the background of the project — the office tower would be located right next to the northern end of the Interstate 5 Bridge, potentially putting it in the path of a future replacement bridge. The Washington State Department of Transportation is aware of it, and may end up making Hurley an offer.
Plans submitted to the city describe Hurley Tower II as a six-story structure with two levels of parking, one on the ground floor and one below grade. Each floor would be about 12,000 square feet, compared with about 7,000 square feet per floor in the first building.
The first Hurley Tower (also referred to as the Hurley Building) broke ground in late 2018 and wrapped up just before the stay-at-home order halted construction. A few tenant improvements had to be put on hold, Hurley said, but the building is certified for occupancy.
The building uses an “office condo” model where businesses can purchase individual floors. It’s an unusual model in Vancouver’s commercial market, and Hurley said the intent was to provide access for companies that want a modern, permanent office but can’t afford or don’t need a whole building.
Hurley Development is open to using the office condo model again for the second tower, he said, but the company won’t make a final determination until later in the planning process.
Hurley previously described the first building’s cost as about $12 million, not counting tenant improvements. The second tower doesn’t have a firm price estimate yet, he said, but he expects it to be roughly the same.
The biggest challenge in both cases is to make sure the buildings have a solid foundation and the ground below is adequately surveyed, he said, due to their proximity to the Columbia River.
The second tower will have the same modern look as the first, Hurley said, but they aren’t intended to be mirror images. Instead, Hurley said, he views both projects as part of a broader effort to revitalize the slice of downtown between Columbia and Washington streets near the riverfront.
The roughly four-block area serves as gateway to downtown, Hurley said; it’s one of the first visible parts of the city for anyone approaching on either Highway 14 or the Interstate 5 Bridge.
“It was an extreme sore spot for the city that needed a development plan,” he said.
Hurley’s companies own the two tower sites as well as the corridor’s northern block, and Hurley Development remodeled a building on the middle block which is now home to Pacific Energy Concepts.
There’s a plan for the northern block, too: Hurley Development intends to build a Hyatt-affiliated hotel on the site. That project has been in the works for several years, and Hurley said it’s now finished with the planning phase.
“We expect the Hyatt to begin construction in the summer of this year,” he said. “It’s been delayed, much of which is from COVID.”
The bridge factor
The new tower site is directly west of the northern end of the Interstate 5 Bridge, which puts it partially inside what likely would have been the footprint of the Columbia River Crossing, the planned replacement bridge that was scrapped in 2013.
The CRC is dead, but there have been signs of a new attempt emerging — most notably in the creation of a bistate committee which began meeting last year to investigate replacement options. Washington’s Legislature allocated $35 million toward that effort.
The design of any potential replacement bridge is unknown at the moment, but the CRC’s design raises the question of whether the Hurley project would conflict with a future bridge.
Hurley said he’s aware of the possibility — in fact, he said, it’s the reason he chose to focus his efforts on developing the rest of the gateway blocks first, in case a new bridge project materialized in the meantime and brought more clarity to the issue.
Hurley stressed that his intention is not to block a future I-5 bridge — he said he supports a replacement — but he said he can’t wait indefinitely based solely on the possibility that there might be a bridge project in the future.
“Whether it’s our project or (the) waterfront, it’s really critical that we maintain the development momentum of our city,” he said.
The tower isn’t the only project near the bridge’s northern end. The Port of Vancouver plans to redevelop the nearby Terminal 1 area, and Kirkland Development has announced plans to redevelop the current site of two restaurant buildings on the upstream side of the bridge.
WSDOT weighs in
Hurley said he’s reached out to the state transportation department in recent years to make sure his plans are known and to give the agency a chance to purchase the property, although he said they declined to do so. He said he’ll continue to work with the agency during the project planning phase, and he remains willing to consider a sale.
WSDOT Southwest Regional Administrator Carley Francis confirmed that Hurley had approached the agency about a possible sale, but she said there was no active bridge project in the works at the time, nor a timeline for a possible project.
Now that the new bistate replacement effort is underway, Francis said the agency has renewed conversations with Hurley about the parcel and is exploring the possibility of using an advanced right-of-way acquisition program that allows the state to preserve corridors for future needs.
“While we are still very early in the process of the new Interstate Bridge Replacement Program and do not yet know what the details of the new effort will ultimately be, given the fact that the property is immediately adjacent to the existing Interstate Bridge, it is likely that it will be needed for any bridge replacement alternative,” Francis wrote in an email.
The next step would be to conduct an appraisal to determine the fair market value for the property, which WSDOT could then use to make an offer. That wouldn’t guarantee acquisition, Francis said — the advanced right-of-way program requires agreement from both the buyer and seller.