The first concrete pour began Thursday morning at Block 12 of Gramor Development's Vancouver waterfront project.

The first concrete pour began Thursday morning at Block 12 of Gramor Development’s Vancouver waterfront project.

Molly Solomon/OPB

Thursday morning was a buzz of activity along the Vancouver riverfront.

Large beams of steel were hoisted into place and more than 100 cement trucks roared toward the $1.5 billion project on the Columbia River.

Gramor Development President Barry Cain was excited to share progress on the Vancouver Waterfront project with more than just the press. He whipped out his phone to video conference call with his parents as trucks rolled by to pour the first round of cement.

“This is going to set the stage for what’s going to happen in downtown Vancouver for the next 20 years,” said Cain. “We’re just excited to be part of this, to help Vancouver realize its vision of bringing its downtown back to the waterfront.”

Cain stood above a metal structure that will eventually become the Grant Street Pier, a cable stay design that will extend 90 feet over the Columbia River. Office space, apartments and a handful of restaurants are also in the works.

For years the 30 acres of land along the river were occupied by the Boise Cascade paper mill, an industrial face to a city that Cain now wants to market as a destination. City officials are hoping the new development will draw tourists and new residents to the growing southwest Washington region.

“This is the most significant natural resource in this whole area. I mean – look at it,” said Cain, staring out across the Columbia. “As much as this is a river city, there are not many places where you can go to enjoy it.”

The first phase of the project, which will include the opening of three restaurants, is expected to be complete next spring.