The complexity of Vancouver’s Terminal 1 development can be witnessed in the timeline. As crews this week began dismantling a century-old dock at the site, The Columbian reported, “New pilings should be installed and ready for the construction of the new dock by January 2026.”
Fulfilling grand ambition takes time, after all. And the Port of Vancouver’s ambition for the former site of the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay, in the shadow of the Interstate 5 Bridge, is befitting a city undergoing a vast transformation.
The plan is to construct a new dock for the future site of a public market, akin to Seattle’s Pike Place Market. “We know the community is ready and eager to add this crown jewel visitor destination to our Terminal 1 location, and we’re excited, too,” Jonathan Eder, the Port of Vancouver’s project lead for Terminal 1, told The Columbian. “It will be worth the wait, and we’ll be watching excitedly with everyone else as new life is breathed into the 100-year-old birthplace of the port.”
In the process, the plans help to inform the public of the port’s mission and exemplify a vast change in American cities. They also combine with the neighboring Waterfront Vancouver development to help redefine the city.
The port is a major economic engine for the region, with revenue streams extending beyond the handling of manufactured goods and raw materials. The port, which owns the Terminal 1 site, also owns the 108-acre Centennial Industrial Park and provides industrial riverfront access at other terminals. In 2022, the port generated $58 million in revenue.
Development of Terminal 1 will expand the port’s mission. As its website explains, the goal is “to create an iconic destination that honors the port’s birthplace, serves as a gateway to the state, creates access to the Columbia River, and promotes tourism and economic development.”
Creating access to the Columbia River reflects relatively new thinking that has been embraced by cities throughout the world. Once regarded as sites for industrial or residential development that shut out the public, waterfronts are now recognized as hubs of recreation rather than simply ports of commerce.
As a 2015 study from Ohio State University surmised: “Historically, waterfront areas have been used for industry, manufacturing, and transportation. The waterfront redevelopment phenomenon has presented the waterfront with new uses such as leisure, recreation, retail, and tourism, reflecting both economic and social needs.”
To make such endeavors successful, city leaders must focus on public safety, housing and climate change. Attracting residents and visitors requires a sense of security; successful public spaces have a cohort of local inhabitants rather than relying solely on tourism; and waterfronts are particularly susceptible to the effects of a changing climate, with water levels destined to rise.
In addition, accessible transit from Portland will be important for a thriving Terminal 1 and The Waterfront Vancouver development. A new Interstate 5 Bridge with either light rail or bus rapid transit is crucial to the success of Vancouver’s revamped waterfront.
The impact of waterfront development can be seen from the Grant Street Pier, which juts out 90 feet over the Columbia River. On the Portland side of the Great River of the West is a mobile home park, which sits moribund in contrast to the economic vibrancy of Vancouver’s waterfront.
Terminal 1 eventually will add to that vibrancy — even if takes several years.