Vibrant, vigorous Vancouver

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer


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Year incorporated: 1857

Population: 161,791

Must see: Officers Row, Fort Vancouver National Site, Esther Short Park, Columbia River Trail, Vancouver Farmers Market (on weekends during warmer months).



For more information on life in Clark County, visit

The big city budgets of the financial boom may have gone bust, but the ’Couv is forging ahead with bold plans for the future.

In 2011, public servants moved into a new LEED-gold certified City Hall building at 415 W. Sixth St., leaving behind a 1960s building with pink carpets. Purchased from Bank of America for $18.5 million, the move consolidates most city services into one building and is expected to save taxpayers about $1 million a year.

The city is working with a local investment group to redevelop a massive 33-acre former industrial site along the Columbia River — a 20-year, $1.2 billion project that aims to bring at least 2,500 residences, 400,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space to the vacant spot.

Design work on an 8-acre centerpiece waterfront park started at the end of 2011, with construction expected to start as soon as 2013. Vancouver is also in the middle of building access streets to the waterfront — which city leaders hope will transform West Vancouver — to the tune of some $44 million. Though the idling economy is making it hard to find willing builders, developers remain optimistic that once the infrastructure’s in place, investment will come.

Work will continue on the planning of the Columbia River Crossing, the massive multibillion-dollar replacement of the Interstate 5 bridge, providing a better connection for the estimated 60,000 Clark County residents who cross the Columbia River to get to work in Portland each day. The project’s got what it wants to do in mind: a five-mile interchange improvement and bridge replacement on I-5, plus the extension of Portland’s MAX light rail into downtown. But the question remains: Will the state and federal governments, under their own financial duress, be able to fully fund the ambitious project?

Bill Turlay has joined the seven elected councilors who call the policy shots in Vancouver. After a hard-fought election, two incumbents kept their seats, while one will be moving on to other public service. Vancouver’s mayor of two years, Tim Leavitt, has proved a lightning-rod leader, particularly over his staunch support of the controversial Columbia River Crossing.

The city continues to grow, particularly on the east side, where annexations have brought thousands of new Vancouverites into city limits. Small tensions between historic west Vancouver and the Southern California-style development of east Vancouver exist, but national chains and small businesses alike are flocking to the area to serve the folks who undeniably want to be there.

And yet traditions root Vancouver firmly into its place as the fourth-largest city in Washington and the largest in Southwest Washington.

The Fort Vancouver National Site remains the base of the city. It was formed in 1857, following the Hudson’s Bay Company establishment of its northwest headquarters in 1825. The fur trappers’ fort, along with Army barracks and Officers Row, are still standing and are central to the city’s identity. Annual celebrations of Independence Day and a stunning fireworks show there draw thousands from Portland and beyond. And a Veteran’s Day parade also gives a nod to the city’s military history.

The historic Kiggins theater on Main Street has reopened, joining the newer Cinetopia in Cascade Park as a date-night tradition.

Esther Short Park, hailed as the oldest public square in the Pacific Northwest, has had new life breathed into it in the last decade, along with downtown. The Vancouver Farmers Market has established itself as a must-see, while every November the Christmas tree lighting brings smiles to the faces of parents and their little elves.