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News / Opinion / Editorials
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Waterfront Gateway a vital link for Vancouver

The Columbian
Published: February 10, 2024, 6:03am

Food trucks. It’s all about food trucks.

Well, that’s an exaggeration. It’s not all about food trucks. But with city of Vancouver officials seeking input regarding their Waterfront Gateway project, members of The Columbian’s Editorial Board thought we would weigh in. The development, after all, can provide an important link between the downtown core and burgeoning projects at Terminal 1 and the Waterfront Vancouver.

As the city’s website explains, “Construction of the vibrant new Waterfront Gateway district is scheduled to begin in 2025, along Esther Street between Sixth Street and Phil Arnold Way. One feature of this district is a large public plaza located south of Vancouver City Hall.” It then provides a survey allowing the public to comment on the plaza proposal. The survey is open until Feb. 29.

The 6.4-acre area is located south and west of City Hall and north of a BNSF railroad berm, a space currently populated by parking lots and grass fields. Preliminary plans call for four buildings with 420 apartments — including 100 deemed “affordable” — office space, retail outlets and parking structures, with the plaza as the centerpiece of the project.

In other words, the proposal embraces the modern ethos of urban development — a combination of residences and businesses that encourages street-level retail and pedestrian activity. But it also has some unusual features born of a need to coexist with other recent development. In that regard, the Waterfront Gateway is the missing link in a transformation of the city core.

Longtime local residents likely can remember when downtown was dominated by a brewery and industrial development. Then, Esther Short Park was renovated; within a couple years, all four blocks bordering the park were redeveloped. The expansive Waterfront Vancouver development followed, and the Port of Vancouver launched ambitious plans for Terminal 1 just west of the Interstate 5 Bridge.

In the process, Vancouver has transformed into The Couve — a vibrant urban space rather than a sleepy bedroom community.

The railroad berm running north of the waterfront developments, however, imposes an unavoidable disconnect and creates the need for the Vancouver Gateway project. The name can be interpreted in multiple ways — a gateway from the waterfront to downtown, and vice versa. Getting it right requires public input.

Regarding the public plaza, the city’s survey asks respondents to weigh the importance of items such as “make a place that is both a destination and a connection point” and “provide outdoor comfort including a covered outdoor area.” It also asks for thoughts about what kind of amenities people hope to find in the plaza. You know, like food carts.

Such spaces can foster a sense of community. Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland reflects those benefits, often being called the “city’s living room.”

While details remain to be hashed out, Vancouver’s Waterfront Gateway appears to be on the right track. Affordable apartments are important for developing an inclusive and vibrant area close to downtown; the addition of parking spaces is important to making the area a destination; a pedestrian link to Esther Short Park will be beneficial; and an emphasis on providing space for local retailers is essential for creating a place that is unique to Vancouver.

Those are our thoughts, and there is room for disagreement. But we are adamant about the food carts.