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The Waterfront Vancouver’s first tenant takes its place

The Waterfront Vancouver had two touchstones on Monday: it welcomed its first tenant and incurred its first delay.

Phase one of the 21-block redevelopment was expected to finish by July when it opened its doors to two restaurant buildings, a plaza and a 90-foot cable-stayed pier. But Barry Cain, whose company Gramor Development is leading the $1.5 billion overhaul, said they will miss that deadline by a month.

“We didn’t make that,” Cain said. “It’s a big project; there are a lot of different pieces.”

Still, work continues. WildFin American Grill on Monday became the first tenant to move into its space. The seafood restaurant will occupy a 7,200-square-foot space on the ground floor of Block 9. Co-owner Attila Szabo called their space, with views of the Columbia River, “one-of-a-kind” and said he expects to open in August.

“There’s really nothing like it in Southwest Washington,” he said. “There’s really nothing like it in the Portland area. I don’t think there’s anything like it within a two-hour drive.”

Day one was mainly preparatory for weeks of more work. Construction workers pored over blueprints while others dug into the interior’s still-gravel floor. It is a gray shell, leaving tenants to install plumbing, ventilation and more. Telltale signs of a restaurant — kitchen equipment, furniture and decor — won’t arrive until about a month before opening.

The restaurant will seat 200 to 300 people, depending on if the weather allows outdoor seating. Plans include a walk-up window called The Daily Catch, pointed east at the upcoming 7.3-acre park.

This will be WildFin’s fourth location, including a similar waterfront space in Tacoma. Parent company WildFin Northwest, headquartered in Issaquah, also owns a quartet of gastropubs in Washington called Stack 571 Burger and Whiskey Bar and two restaurants in Anchorage, Alaska.

At least 90 people will be hired to staff the newest location, Szabo said, not including a management crew of eight.

‘Right around the corner’

There remains a lot of moving pieces at The Waterfront Vancouver with plenty of space to be leased.

Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar is expected to move into its space on the ground floor of Block 12, said Cain. But second-floor tenant Ghost Runners Brewery remains ensnared in a legal battle between its founders and a Texas-based investor.

“We hope that will be settled out pretty quick here,” Cain said. He added that the 28,500-square-foot building has room enough for three more restaurants.

Likewise, the second floor above WildFin lacks a tenant.

Other buildings slated to open over the next year include a 200-unit apartment complex with retail, a 60-unit apartment building and a seven-story office tower. Three tenants have been announced between them: MidiCi Neopolitan Pizza Company, Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty and M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

With available commercial space measured in the tens of thousands of square feet, Cain said Gramor is negotiating with several tenants but cannot make any announcements.

“Wish we could, but it will come,” he said. Then he added that the project is coming along better than he expected.

“I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised. August is right around the corner. It’s kind of hard to believe.”