Gillian Wallis is losing her building, her tenants, and her patience.Last year, representatives of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail Tolling project alerted Wallis that the historic building she and her husband Bob had invested three-quarters of a million dollars remodeling was slated to be razed in a push to connect Portland’s light rail to Vancouver.
The Wallis’ building, the former Lucky Lager Warehouse, has stood since 1920 on 4th Street near the base of the Interstate 5 Bridges. In 2007 the Wallis’ purchased the structure, and two years later in 2009 the building was placed on the Clark County Heritage Register.
The remodeling the Wallis’ undertook occurred in the interim. Careful consideration of aesthetics was given its full due. Professional tenants, who lease space in the building, are treated to the brewery’s history as soon as they enter – a gentle gaze toward the ceiling reveals rings of old barrels that previously were housed on the second floor where the Wallis’ engineering firm is stationed. Upstairs, a skylight running along the building’s crown floods the second floor with natural lighting.
Into this bright space came a letter from the CRC with depressing news. The building would be destroyed in order to make room for light rail. The CRC asked to make contact with the Wallis’ tenants. Gillian Wallis did what all good landlords do, she let the CRC know that she wanted to speak to her tenants first. What occurred next is not a surprise. In response to the CRC’s notice to vacate, the tenants began a scramble to look for new offices.Apparently, though, the displacement of the tenants may be later as opposed to sooner. Although, that is still not clear.
Mid-February the local media reported that Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond had revised the construction timeline of the Columbia River Crossing project. Instead of beginning at the end of 2013, as Wallis was told, the date is now pushed out to 2014. That drives the Wallis’ into two-years of stagnant uncertainty, two years to watch their building empty and drain of tenants.
On February 20, and a bit fed-up, Gillian Wallis struke out to understand the conflicting stories of whether construction would begin in 2013, as the representatives who spoke to her reported, or in 2014 as the media reported after interviewing Hammond during a Vancouver visit.
“How can we and our tenants run our businesses effectively with this kind of uncertainty hanging over our heads?” she wrote the CRC representatives who had come on her property.
She copied in an arsenal of local and state representatives hoping that would turn the heat up and she waited. Two weeks later, the CRC had not responded. Into the void came further media reports — now on the mismanaged bridge height.
On Mar. 7, Gillian Wallis resent her questions. Five days later she received a reply.
Apparently, Director of the CRC Nancy Boyd, Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond and CRC Deputy Director Kris Strickler had met. Strickler was assigned the task to facilitate a response to Wallis.
“I think our real estate staff will need some assistance in responding. Please let them know what we discussed with Paula and Matt Friday afternoon,” wrote Boyd to Strickler.
Right of Way Manager, Joe Gray signed the follow up and sent it in PDF format to Gillian Wallis on Mar. 12 (although the letter is dated Mar. 9). It is apparent that while Gray’s boss, Paula Hammond, instructs the media that construction is delayed to 2014, Gray’s letter seems to insist that the 2013 date is still intact.“Construction is currently anticipated to begin in late 2013,” he writes.
Gray’s letter also stated that:
- Timing of CRC property acquisition is connected to construction sequence
- Timing of property acquisition is connected to funding availability
- The CRC does not have construction funding
Joe Gray further laid on caustic balm, “We cannot yet predict the specific schedule for acquisition.”
So, Wallis remains in limbo – not knowing what year the wrecking ball will swing through her building, but, based on the speculative interests of the CRC, Wallis’ tenants are in a panic to relocate.
If they’d just wait though, writes Joe Gray, Wallis’ tenants might be able to dip into the taxpayer’s pocketbooks. “Tenants that relocate prior to being identified as eligible… benefits, such as moving expenses,” may not receive benefits. Gray goes on to write, “Knowledge of these benefits may provide greater certainty to you and your tenants.”
A couple of questions remain unanswered by the letter:
- How Gillian Wallis or her tenants receive “knowledge of benefits”
- Why the CRC is moving ahead without funding of the “construction package”
In an earlier COUV.COM article, Gillian Wallis voiced her frustration on the tug and pull of her building’s future.