Vancouver aims to link past, future

City hopes waterfront project will provide broad benefits

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter



City of Vancouver

Year incorporated: 1857

Population: 163,200

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


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Dr. John McLoughlin set up the Northwest headquarters for a British fur trading company here in 1825, nearly two decades after famed explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through the area and more than 100 years before Pearson Field was the landing site for the world’s first non-stop transpolar flight.

But there’s a wide gap between historic parts of the city and east Vancouver, which sprouted fast to accommodate the city’s dizzying growth in the 1990s and 2000s.

Sprawling, suburban Vancouver at 192nd Avenue feels like it has nothing in common with downtown’s Esther Short Park, the oldest public square in the Pacific Northwest.

(Well, nothing save for Starbucks.)

In 2013, the city will continue working on a vision for its future, one that includes expanded access to one of its biggest attractions: the Columbia River waterfront.

Yes, the focus will still be on the city’s west side.

But leaders hope working with a local investment group to redevelop a 35-acre former industrial site adjacent to downtown will spur significant economic growth in addition to creating a defining city scene along the river.

The 20-year, billion-dollar project 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 site, formerly occupied by Boise Cascade.

City officials also have a large waterfront park and an extension of the Waterfront Renaissance Trail in their sights.

In 2012, crews punched through the BNSF Railway berm south of City Hall, offering a view from the end of Esther Street to the river that’s been hidden for more than a century.

Other city priorities for 2013 include improving how essential services are delivered and filling high-profile vacancies.

Police Chief Cliff Cook resigned in 2012, and although his departure was the most newsworthy, the city also lost the directors of Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation and Human Resources to other public agencies and the director of Community & Economic Development to retirement. (Although that director, Laura Hudson, agreed to temporarily lead the parks department.)

Before the city hires a new police chief, a nonprofit organization will conduct a wide-ranging assessment of the police department and assist in the recruitment and hiring process. The International City/County Management Association will study, among other things, how the department deploys officers, officer response times, crime data and whether the department can be doing more targeted crime reduction work.

The city’s fire department will also begin testing cost-cutting recommendations. Chief Joe Molina said he’d like to start a pilot project in April where, instead of dispatching a three- or four-person crew in a fire engine to a 911 call about someone complaining of back pain, the department will send a firefighter-paramedic and a firefighter in a SUV.

It costs approximately $1.34 a mile to operate a SUV, compared with $7.47 a mile for a fire engine.

Sending smaller, faster vehicles to non-emergency medical calls was just one recommendation in a Fire Service Delivery Analysis, which was prepared by an 11-member community resource team that studied ways to stabilize the department’s budget without gutting services.

A list of top priorities for the city would not be complete without mentioning the Columbia River Crossing, the multibillion-dollar replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge. The total project includes five miles of interchange improvements, plus the extension of Portland’s MAX light rail into downtown, and funding remains in doubt.