Public invited to discuss future of La Center Junction

LA CENTER — What used to be a sleepy Interstate 5 exit leading toward the small city of La Center is quickly becoming a hub of activity. The Cowlitz tribal casino is set to open on the west side of the interstate in mid-April, bringing an expected 4.5 million visitors per year to the area known as the “La Center Junction.”

City leaders have long touted the Junction as something for the future — as a future source of revenue, a future place for the city to grow its commercial sector. Now, the future is here.

Last month, city councilors in La Center approved a $100,000 expenditure to hire a consulting firm and begin the first phases of economic development studies on the 205-acre Junction. About 120 acres are zoned for commercial uses, there is a very small piece of residential zoning in there and the rest could be used for light industrial purposes. For La Center, a city that has long depended on revenue from its three privately owned card rooms, the area located just opposite of Interstate 5 from the Cowlitz tribe’s $510 million mega-casino holds promise of a brighter economic future.

City of La Center leaders have long touted the I-5 Junchtion as something for the future
City of La Center leaders have long touted the I- 5 Junction as something for the future — as a future source of revenue, a future place for the city to grow its commercial sector. Now, the future is here. Photo by Mike Schultz

The city’s contracted planner, Eric Eisemann, told city leaders in mid-October that the intensive process, known as a “charrette,” would bring designers, city leaders, planners and citizens together to help La Center develop a strategy for the Junction.

 

One piece of the process, Eisemann said, is “a visioning process and urban design process so you can help decide how the Junction will be laid out and how it will look.”

City Councilor Liz Cerveny, a former La Center mayor, said that, in the end, La Center still needs “to meet the employment goals that we’ve always failed to meet, so we need to ask, ‘what is the best fit for the limited amount of land?’”

Other economic leaders from around the region have been asking similar questions. In fact, Eisemann said, the Clark Regional Economic Development Council (CREDC) is also interested in the future of the Junction.

A private-public partnership of more than 140 Clark County investors and partners, the CREDC positions itself to “advance the economic vitality of Clark County through business relocation, growth and innovation.” For the past three months, the CREDC has been assessing six sites at the La Center Junction that could be developed quickly into the type of office, campus or light industrial uses that are in high demand in north Clark County.

“They (the CREDC) are conducting site assessments for environmental  concerns and are doing marketing assessments,” Eisemann told councilors in mid-October. “We can piggyback on their project and look at the other areas of the Junction.”

The city had put a building moratorium on the Junction earlier this year, in the hopes that city leaders could get a better handle on what types of businesses will fit where inside the Interstate-bound Junction area.

On Oct. 12, the city councilors discussed extending the moratorium if necessary.

“If we had to extend the moratorium, we could,” said La Center Mayor Greg Thornton. “I would rather see us get a good product than rush through the process.”

Over the past couple of weeks, the design team hired by the city has been working with stakeholders, including Mayor Thornton and Eisemann, to develop an urban design vision for the commercial zone at the Junction. The design team has been meeting over the past week with the mayor, city councilor sub-committee members, public works employees and other stakeholders to discuss community vision and expectations for the area.

Now, the design team and city leaders will bring citizens into the visioning process. The public is invited to attend a community open house from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Mon., Nov. 7, at the La Center Public Works Building, 305 N. Pacific Hwy., La Center, to hear what the design team has come up with after the intensive, four-day charrette process and to give feedback on their ideas for the future of the La Center Junction.

Have questions about the Nov. 7 open house? Contact La Center Public Works Department Administrative Assistant Naomi Hansen by calling (360) 263-7665 or by emailing her at [email protected].

New temporary I-5 ramps at La Center to open next week

Drivers who use the Interstate 5 off- and on-ramps at La Center should prepare for changes next week.

Contractor crews working for the Cowlitz Tribe will shift traffic to temporary ramps to create an expanded construction zone as part of the La Center interchange project.

Beginning Mon., Nov. 7, drivers on Northwest La Center Road/Northwest 319th Street will use a temporary on-ramp to reach southbound I-5.

By 4 a.m., Tue., Nov. 8, northbound I-5 drivers will begin using a temporary exit to La Center that is approximately 1,000 feet beyond the existing off-ramp.

Drivers should look for signs in the area to ensure they reach their destinations.

These changes will be in place until the new La Center interchange opens in its final configuration next spring.

Before heading out the door, drivers can get real time traffic information on their phone with the WSDOT mobile app, and on the Travel Alerts webpage.

Hyperlinks within the release:

Cowlitz Tribe project information: www.ilaniresort.com/newsroom/interchange-project.html

WSDOT mobile app: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Inform/mobile.htm

Travel Alerts webpage: www.wsdot.com/traffic/trafficalerts/

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About The Author

Kelly Moyer has been reporting for community newspapers since the mid-1990s, including the Newport News-Times on the Oregon Coast; the Lewistown Sentinel, a daily newspaper in central Pennsylvania; the Gresham Outlook, Wilsonville Spokesman, Sherwood Gazette and South County Spotlight newspapers in the Portland metro area; and The Reflector newspaper in Battle Ground, Wash. She also is the former managing editor of Midwifery Today, an international magazine for birth professionals. Kelly, a University of Oregon alumnus and Pennsylvania native, lives with her family in Northeast Portland.

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