In Our View: Waterfront Progress

State grant will launch first phaseof park and trail development

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From the Clark County perspective, one of the meaningful legislative accomplishments this year was the approval of $1 million for the first phase of work on an 8-acre public park in the Vancouver Waterfront project, including an extension of the popular Columbia River Renaissance Trail into the 32-acre former industrial site.That might not sound like much, when you look at just the numbers in the first paragraph. But it’s a key step toward a mega-project that will dramatically reshape Vancouver and provide an unprecedented impetus in economic development. If numbers are all you’re interested in, try these on for size: This project in several years is expected to bring 2,500 residences, 400,000 square feet of office space, and 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space onto the coveted waterfront site formerly occupied by the Boise Cascade paper mill.

In that greater context, therefore, the $1 million state grant takes on powerful meaning. It certainly got the attention of Mayor Tim Leavitt, who in a written statement said the money is for much more “than just funding a new public park and trail … . This money will be leveraged to attract major private investment and creation of jobs.”

According to a press release from the city, the entire Clark County legislative delegation supported the grant. More than 20,000 jobs are expected to be lured to the waterfront throughout the life of the project. And when it’s completed, an abandoned industrial site will be transformed into an array of residences, offices, shops, hotels, trails and public parks.

As we see it, they’re starting this project in the right way, paying attention to public access. This year’s grant will be directed toward the initial work of trail development and, when completed, the public will have a better view of what’s happening in the overall project. To date, the redevelopment work has been kept largely out of public view.

It’s also encouraging to see legislators taking such a bold step during tough economic times. They know a recession carries twin benefits of lower bids and a local work force that’s eager to get the ball rolling on a crucial project. This grant was part of the supplemental capital budget that was decided Tuesday, separate from the operating budget that was announced early Wednesday morning.

When the Columbia Renaissance Trail ultimately is extended into the waterfront project, it will increase the allure of downtown to all Clark County residents, as well as those visiting from elsewhere. Already, the trail is drawing almost a million visitors a year, despite the closure of some areas due to flooding.

The waterfront trail grant is part of about $33 million in state forwarded by the Legislature this year to various endeavors in Clark County. Other affected projects include the Discovery Corridor Wastewater Transmission System, Centennial Industrial Park infrastructure, the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, Port of Vancouver stormwater work, retrofitting local dry wells and improving the parking area at Shillapoo Wildlife Area’s North Unit.

If and when the long-awaited economic recovery kicks in, the Vancouver Waterfront project will be poised to become a vibrant part of the action.