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News / Business / Clark County Business

Main Street in downtown Vancouver ready for makeover as city strives to assure businesses

Officials hold final open house on design, detail how they will communicate about project

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 2, 2023, 6:08am

When Seanette Corkill moved from the Midwest to Vancouver in 1989, Main Street was hardly bustling. Like many, she picked Vancouver for tax purposes and its proximity to Interstate 5.

“I could take a nap on Main Street and probably get a good 30 minutes in before somebody rolled by and said, ‘What’s she doing laying there on the asphalt?’” Corkill said. “It was slow.”

Now downtown Main Street is home to many businesses including banks, restaurants, bars, a movie theater and, as of October, a grocery store. In early 2024, the businesses on Main Street will see two years of construction to make the street’s 10 southernmost blocks, between West Fifth and West 15th streets, safer, more accessible and better connected.

On Wednesday, city of Vancouver staff held the third and final open house on the Main Street redesign before construction. Staff unveiled the order in which construction will happen, and they reiterated lines of communication and how they intend to keep businesses busy through two years of construction.

Sequencing

With nearly 300 businesses being affected by construction, the project’s sequencing is an important topic for many.

Construction is broken into three phases, to happen in two-block intervals as opposed to all at once. Even during construction, the majority of the time, pedestrian access to businesses will remain.

Corkill — the owner of Frontdoor Back, a consultant firm for store design and visual merchandising located at 2114 Main St. — understands the importance of what a vibrant appearance can do for businesses.

“There’s a sweet spot. If you did it block by block, you could have increases in costs that are not necessarily the best use of public funds, but extending it to two-block chunks is kind of that happy medium, versus locking the whole place down for two years,” Corkill said.

Sanitary sewer, the first phase, will take five weeks to complete for every two blocks. After each of the five two-block segments is done, the contractor will upgrade water utilities, which will take 2½ weeks per segment. The third and final phase is the actual roadway redesign and stormwater upgrades. That will take seven weeks for each two-block segment.

Work on the sewer is expected to start in spring 2024, water in fall 2024 or winter 2025, and street and stormwater improvements in early 2025.

“It will take us a little longer, but it will be less impactful on the community,” said Ryan Lopossa, transportation manager for the city of Vancouver. “And that’s a fair trade-off.”

Communication

Given the inevitable impacts of the project, communication is a top priority for the city, Lopossa said.

“A consistent message we hear from businesses and anyone impacted by a construction project like this is ‘I just need to know what’s going on. I need to know what to expect in the next week or two,’” Lopossa said.

The city of Vancouver’s small-business project manager position, held by Julie Arenz, was created specifically with the Main Street redevelopment in mind. Arenz will communicate with impacted businesses so they know what’s going on.

Dan Wyatt, owner of the Kiggins Theatre and Bessolo Pizzeria, appreciated learning how his businesses are going to be affected during construction.

“I survived 14 months being shut down during the pandemic; I can survive five weeks,” Wyatt said. “What’s good to know is that they’re keeping the pedestrian lanes open so people can park off Main Street and walk in, which they usually end up doing anyway.”

The redesign

Highlights of the redesign include replacing diagonal parking with parallel parking, narrowing the roadway while extending sidewalks, and setting a roadway level with the sidewalk so there are no curbs — like Esther Street adjoining Esther Short Park. The Vancouver City Council approved the designs in October, and the project has an estimated price tag of $21 million.

Plans to upgrade Main Street date to the early 1990s, but financial restrictions caused the project to be delayed. It wasn’t until the pandemic and the American Rescue Plan Act, which awarded federal money to help local governments promote economic growth and stability during the pandemic, that sufficient funds were available.

The Main Street redevelopment “represents in real time the transition from a suburban bedroom community to a full-fledged urban community that in many cases stands on its own,” said Chris Harder, deputy director of economic prosperity and housing for the city of Vancouver.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer