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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.