It may be several years away, but eventually a large swath of the Woodland Bottoms will be open for industrial development.
The City of Woodland and Port of Woodland are in the early stages of planning to develop 426 acres of private land for industrial use. The idea is to build something similar to the Mint Farm Industrial Park in Longview.
The city is leading the effort to develop the 426 acres, but it’s working closely with the port, which owns property nearby on Guild Road. Both port and city officials say there is growing demand for industrial properties in Woodland.
“I think because of Woodland’s location on the I-5 corridor, we have rail access, we have the rivers and it’s basically flat, open land. What I hear from the Port of Woodland is that it’s very much in demand,” said Peter Boyce, City of Woodland administrator.
The Woodland City Council in April approved $100,000 to pay for a feasibility study to begin planning roads and utility lines for 426 acres of land south of Guild Road/Scott Avenue and west of the BNSF Railway tracks.
The undeveloped land currently doesn’t have road or utility connections. Private landowners have pushed the city to look at adding the infrastructure to improve the land’s marketability, Boyce said.
“The problem right now is we have a number of private property owners out there who are ... wanting to sell some of there property but it’s a big (expense) for one developer to come in and run water and sewer (and roads),” Boyce said. “Basically we need to get the bones in place to attract the businesses,” he added.
Erin Thoeny, whose farming family owns 160 acres of the property in area, said there have been more developers expressing interest in the area in recent years since the recession.
“I know by talking to the brokers ... that firms are going elsewhere because this area does not have the infrastructure; a couple of them had quite a number of jobs with it,” Thoeny said.
Although much of the private property is being used for agricultural purposes now, much of it already is zoned for industrial use.
The city’s feasibility study will determine how best the city can extend roads, sewer, water and electric lines into the area and analyze what kind of industrial developers might be interested in locating there. While the city will pay for the study, the infrastructure will be paid for by the private landowners and/or developers, potentially through a Local Improvement District (LID) or some other type of financing option, Boyce said. (A LID is a special taxing district in which property owners finance improvements, such as new utilities or sidewalks, through their property taxes.)
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In a separate project nearby, north of Guild Road, the Port of Woodland is planning to develop its 28-acre Guild Road Industrial Parks I and II into a light industrial area for warehousing, transportation and distribution firms.
Conceptual plans for Guild Road Industrial Park I already are complete, and recently the Port of Woodland commission awarded a contract to Gibbs and Olson to conduct a site plan and conceptual design for Guild Road Industrial Park II.
Together the Guild Road and the Woodland Bottoms projects would add nearly 500 acres of industrial property to Cowlitz County. That’s on top of the more than 100 acres of undeveloped Weyerhaeuser Co.-owned property at Mint Farm Industrial Park, the future industrial park planned at Port of Longview’s Barlow Point, the Coweeman Park in Kelso and Spencer Creek Business Park at Port of Kalama.
In spite of competition for industrial tenants, Jennifer Keene, Port of Woodland Executive Director, was confident the city and port could attract developers to Woodland.
“We are constantly getting calls (from companies) that want to be closer to Woodland. We are a good 25 minutes (closer to) the airport in comparison to Longview,” Keene said. “(The firms who are calling) are more interested in being closer to Portland metro area. It’s closer to where their employees want to be living.”
Several Clark County companies are “getting squeezed” out of the county because there is not enough space to expand, she noted. And many firms want to access flat lands where they can build new structures specific to their needs, rather than fitting into an existing space, Keene said.
While there are no estimates for how many jobs the Woodland Bottoms and Guild Road projects would generate together, Keene said that on average there are about seven jobs created per each acre of industrial land. (That could mean about 3,000 jobs at full buildout if that average holds true for Woodland.)
If the future industrial parks create hundreds of new jobs, that would also increase the need for an Interstate 5 overpass at Scott Avenue, Keene added.
For the port, the new industrial land couldn’t come sooner enough.
“We are literally just trying to catch up with the market now, and I would say we are a year behind where we should have been,” Keene said.