New plaque marks Esther Short Park honor

National planniers group designates it as a Great Public Space

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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A bronze plaque commemorating Esther Short Park's inclusion among Great Public Spaces has been installed in the park's southeast corner, near the base of the bell tower.

Members of the Vancouver City Council and City Manager Eric Holmes took a break from meetings Monday evening to walk across the street from City Hall and pose for a portrait next to the plaque, which had been presented to the city by the American Planning Association.

The oldest public square in Washington, the 5.4-acre Esther Short Park was established in 1853 after it was bequeathed to the city by its namesake.

Last year, the park was the site of 40 permitted events, with an overall attendance of approximately 140,000 people, said Stacey Donovan, the city's special events manager. She anticipates overall attendance will increase this year despite a similar number of events, a sign of the increasing popularity of events such as the Vancouver USA Marathon and Summer Brewfest, the Craft Winefest of Vancouver and the Recycled Arts Festival. The Riverview Six to Sunset concerts have also had larger crowds this summer than last year, Donovan said.

On Monday, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt credited his predecessor, former Mayor Royce Pollard, and past city councilors for revitalizing the park. He said he often hears compliments about the park from people who come to meet with him at City Hall, south of the park on Sixth Street.

Leavitt called the award from the APA a wonderful recognition of a vision that required hard work and donations from generous community members.

Every year the APA, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, names 30 "exemplary public spaces, streets and neighborhoods to highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs," according to a news release issued by the APA in October.

Esther Short Park was named among the 10 Great Public Spaces. It was singled out "for a design that honors the city's history and culture, amenities that allow for participation and contemplation, and the park's catalytic role in the city's long-range, $800 million downtown mixed-use plan that has attracted some $250 million in reinvestment since 2002," the release said.

"Esther Short Park illustrates the power of a public space to transform its surrounding environs," APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer said last year. "Convinced of the park's potential to stem downtown Vancouver's decline, city leaders, investors and residents positioned the park as part of a larger planning strategy. By restoring the park as a place residents feel comfortable using and enjoying, the city has been able to infuse downtown with a vibrancy that has accelerated redevelopment," Farmer added.

At a 2001 dedication of the park's Propstra Square — named for the late Burgerville founder George Propstra and his wife, Carolyn, who made a $3.2 million donation for the square and bell tower — Pollard said, "Every community needs a heart. And the heart can be pulsating right out of Esther Short Park."

Other Pacific Northwest sites that have been honored by the APA include Pike Place Market in Seattle, Tacoma's Point Defiance Park and Portland's Tom McCall Waterfront Park and Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice;stephanie.rice@columbian.com.