In Our View: Drama on the Waterfront

Mayor, governor pump up the crowd as downtown dream is described

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Never one to pass up a chance for the melodramatic, Mayor Tim Leavitt was at his thespian best Thursday at the railroad berm near downtown Vancouver. The ceremony might've reminded some of the 75 or so onlookers about President Ronald Reagan's inimitable: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"Only, at this event, it was Leavitt vociferously mandating: "Move those trucks!" Others in the crowd might've connected Leavitt's command to the television show "Extreme Home Makeover," in which the host says: "Bus driver, move that bus!"

At any rate, the full-drama effect was achieved. Two construction trucks moved away from each other, creating an unobstructed view through the railroad berm to the 35-acre site where a waterfront project is planned.

Oh, the delight! Children chirped happily and waved their plastic construction hats. The governor, no less, smiled. There were even rumors about a swoon or two somewhere among the spectators.

Far be it from us to douse all of this gaiety, but this ceremony was more ceremonial than authentic. That same hole through the berm had been gouged out last month and applauded in a May 25 Columbian editorial. But, hey, the governor was in town, the mayor was energized, and moving trucks is like kissing babies and shaking hands.

Cynicism aside, we think Thursday's ritual at the berm was quite nifty, if not genuine. Vancouver's waterfront project is a promise worth repeating. And some fresh enthusiasm was brought to the scene by the visiting Gov. Chris Gregoire. She told the students, public officials and others that Vancouver's waterfront will become a "world-class destination." And she's right. When visionary public leaders can partner with the private sector to redevelop an abandoned paper mill site into an multi-use expanse — with an 8-acre public park, retail outlets, restaurants, office space and 3,000 residential units — well, all of these boisterous redundancies become perfectly permissible.

"I think this is one of the best celebrations that I could ever envision to close out my time as governor of this great state, and one of the biggest accomplishments for this entire region," Gregoire said.

She was impressed by the ongoing infrastructure work that will connect the waterfront with the downtown area. She learned that the project will extend the Waterfront Renaissance Trail. The public-private partnership is projected to generate $1.3 billion in private development and yield a 30-to-1 return on the public's investment. And Gregoire is not the only Olympia-based official who knows all of this about the waterfront project. The Legislature this year set aside $1 million in the state's capital budget for the park portion of the waterfront project.

Gregoire also cheered the nearby West Vancouver Freight Access project, which will enhance freight mobility, allow for expansion of Amtrak passenger service and reduce rail congestion by 40 percent. "If there was ever a place to nickname Train City, well, this is it," the governor boasted. OK, you're starting to sound like the mayor now. But she more accurately noted that the "sound of those trains means jobs. It means international trade, which is our bread and butter."

Indeed, Vancouver and Clark County are becoming more involved in the state's $40 billion of annual commerce and the 130,000 warehouse and distributing jobs that all depend on railroads.

Granted, fact-checkers might be aghast at some of the things that were said Thursday at the berm. But when you're that excited, a little hyperbole is understandable.