Hotel, shops planned for La Center junction

Developer sees location prime for retail, lodging off of I-5

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After years in the making, plans for a 4-acre development in La Center off of Interstate 5 are moving forward, with a hotel, gas station and drive-thru restaurant hopefully starting its first phase of construction by the end of the year.

During La Center City Council’s July 28 meeting, the city’s community development consultant Jeff Swanson provided an overview to council and citizens on the proposal, which will be a redevelopment of the current Shell station and truck stop near the interstate interchange.

When completely built out, the development will feature a five story hotel with 101 units; an 11,600 square foot one-story multi-tenant commercial building; a 4,510 square foot convenience store with a drive-thru window; a one-story 2,800 square foot drive-thru restaurant; and a 12-pump automobile fueling island, according to a project narrative prepared by Olson Engineering.

After a land use hearing in 2020, the project got the go ahead to move forward. Developer Joe Tanner, managing member of The Convenience Group, said La Center has been a solid partner in progressing the project.

“We and the city of La Center have been cooperative partners for a long time ... and continuing to this day and going forward,” Tanner said.

His company, the city and the Cowlitz Tribe have collaborated on work that precedes the planned development, signing development agreements with each other on infrastructure improvements in 2016.

Currently, the project is planned to come in phases, though if conditions allow, Tanner wants to see all of the groundwork completed at once, with full construction on the hotel and convenience store starting simultaneously.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a number of impacts on the project, including a shakeup of the hospitality market. The pandemic also drove the price  of materials “through the roof,” though Tanner said those costs are starting to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

“This project would already be underway if it weren’t for COVID,” he said.

Currently his company is working on construction financing and hopes to break ground on the project this year.

Tanner said the ballpark estimate for the project will cost $50 million altogether, with about $35 to $40 million being construction costs.

He said the development is similar to other projects his company has done, only it’s bigger and features a hotel.

Tanner said his company will operate the hotel franchise, a Hampton under the Hilton brand, and the convenience store. He said there have been numerous inquiries for the retail spaces and restaurant.

Though there aren’t any businesses set in stone to move in, Tanner said he is confident the spaces will be leased “in short order.” The real estate proves alluring to prospective tenants given its proximity to Interstate 5 and the overall population growth in the region, he said, which along with proximity to ilani across the overpass makes it a “premium location” in his opinion.

Although ilani has already broken ground on its own 14-story, nearly 300-room hotel, Tanner said the business his group is bringing in and the luxury hotel by the casino would capture different markets like youth sports and people on business who want to be near a casino.  The hotel is based on a feasibility study and reactions from internationally-operating hotel groups, which Tanner said painted a positive picture for the development.

“These people don’t want to put hotels where they’re not going to be successful,” Tanner said.

Tanner said the project is just the latest work his company has brought to the city in its longstanding relationship with La Center.

“We are there to be the best corporate citizen that any business could be,” Tanner said. “This gives us the opportunity to do so much more of that.”

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