The city of Vancouver is nearly 30 percent of the way to deciding on a long-awaited plan to redesign downtown’s Main Street corridor.
Main Street’s 10 southernmost blocks have remained untouched for decades, leading city leaders to persistently campaign for its rejuvenation. Their plan, the Main Street Promise, pledges to make the street safer, more accessible and better connected.
The plan specifically calls for rebuilding Main Street between West Fifth and West 15th streets, with work beginning in 2024 and finished by 2026. The street will be fitted with upgraded water and sewer mains, repaved, restriped and adorned with art. It will also have wider sidewalks, improved crossings and new LED streetlights.
Proprietors of some stores and restaurants along the corridor are concerned about losing business due to restricted access during the street’s reconstruction. Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle echoed this concern, relaying to the project team that business retention should be a priority.
“We need to keep those businesses down there,” she said.
City officials and project partners already are discussing how to do it.
“As a person who’s done a lot of road building in his career, I can go out and do the work on Main Street pretty easily, but to do it in a way that minimizes impacts — to businesses and to folks who are moving throughout the corridor — that’s the challenge for this project,” said Ryan Lopossa, city streets and transportation manager.
The same mitigation techniques can be used for future downtown projects, specifically the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project, which is due to begin around the same time Main Street’s reconstruction ends, he said.
Katy Belkony, a communications specialist with Point North Consulting, said her firm is working with Vancouver’s Downtown Association to create a business retention strategy, which they anticipate presenting to the city council at its next Main Street update.
Redefining city growth
Jason Graf, a consultant with urban design and planning firm First Forty Feet, said the project team is highlighting Vancouver’s “connective tissue,” or how citywide amenities can become interlinked. Much of this will be done by creating a better pedestrian experience.
Designers are looking to remove 14 diagonal parking spots and, instead, equally distribute parallel parking between 10th and 15th streets. Graf said there would be no net loss of parking.
He illustrated the success of this strategy by pointing to a similar corridor project in Oregon City, Ore., where reorienting the spots improved storefront visibility and sidewalk space. Designers are also navigating how to create room for restaurant parklets and comparable amenities.
The city council found this framing to be valuable.
“My personal desire for Main Street is this is a pedestrian space where vehicles feel like they’re intruding and not the other way around,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober.
Altering streets are a constant element in a city’s growth, Councilor Erik Paulsen said, and officials need to be intentional about what it is being promoted through these projects.
“What’s the right answer? What’s the wrong answer?” he asked. “I think it starts with changing the focus of the conversation away from parking and towards what do we want downtown to be?”
Paulsen said making Main Street less car-centric will be an asset to the future of downtown Vancouver.
Council members unanimously relayed a need for the project team to engage with people with disabilities. They said doing so will ensure Main Street remains accessible to all who walk through downtown Vancouver, including those who are blind or use wheelchairs.
A long time coming
The city of Vancouver originally identified a plan to upgrade Main Street in 1993 but didn’t start the project until recently.
It all came down to money.
Funding was city officials’ largest hurdle, one that took the COVID-19 pandemic to overcome. About $10 million of the project’s funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, which awarded federal money to help local governments promote economic growth and stability during the pandemic. Vancouver received funds in 2021.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to make these changes,” said Teresa Brum, city deputy director of economic development.
A project cost estimate won’t be available until the design process is close to being completed in 2024. The preliminary work, including project design and public engagement, costs around $2.5 million. However, Brum said, the city expects to draw money from multiple sources, including Vancouver’s transportation, utility and Multifamily Tax Exemption Public Benefit funds.
There will be two remaining community open houses for the rest of the design phase. They have yet to be scheduled.