What goes down must come up

Vancouver USA

This summer, downtown Vancouver will have a new brew pub on the corner of Evergreen and Broadway. Mayor Tim Leavitt alluded to several new events being scheduled for this summer. But, River Maiden’s Dripster coffee shop and the Crave Grille have disappeared. Such changes, said Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association (VDA) are to be expected.

“It’s a living organism,” said Rafferty. “Changes are natural – we’re not a museum.”

What’s more important, Rafferty said, is that people feel downtown is a vibrant place to be. For example, Grant Merrill, co-owner of Dirty Hands Brewing, plans to open his brew pub in the former Columbian building, hopefully as early as June. Other businesses, such as Torque Coffee and Loowit Brewing are celebrating anniversaries.

“Downtown was showing signs of coming back,” said Merrill. “We figured it was a good time to get into the revitalization. There’s potential for growth and it seems like a nice place to live.”

Growing Downtown Together

Leavitt said that the ongoing transition is driven by the “strength of partnerships that have been established to tackle the revitalization of downtown on multiple fronts.”

The VDA, downtown neighborhood associations, downtown businesses and governmental agencies, said Leavitt, are working together to evolve downtown Vancouver into a viable regional economic player.

Rafferty said that the VDA is spearheading several initiatives, based largely on the 91-page “identity dossier” prepared last year by consultant Michele Reeves of Civilis Consultants.

“Michele gave us a blueprint,” said Rafferty. “Everything she said to us we are building into our plans to make Vancouver walkable, safe, and inviting.”

Some of the focus areas for the VDA, many funded through grants from the City and/or donations from local businesses, include the following:

  • Table tents for hotel rooms and other waiting areas at local businesses, featuring QR codes that take the reader to information about downtown events and walking maps
  • Various art projects throughout downtown, such as the Flying Umbrellas sculpture (Evergreen and Main ), Turtle Place (Seventh and Main), and the on-going facelift to Block 10, seen above. (if this placement changes, please make the nec. adjustment)
  • Clean & Safe Downtown and Business Façade Improvement programs, that seek to improve storefronts and lighting.
  • No Ifs Ands or Butts program, which has installed 24 locally manufactured cigarette butt receptacles throughout downtown.
  • Publication of a Business Recruitment Packet, which outlines ten reasons why people should consider opening a business in Vancouver.

Besides supporting many of the VDA’s efforts, the City has its own downtown projects. In particular, Leavitt mentioned Destination Downtown, which helps downtown employers, workers and customers explore downtown and try new ways of getting here and getting around. The program enjoyed great success in 2012, and the City intends to expand the program in 2013 to include the Uptown Village area.

Events, too, said Leavitt, help educate people about what Vancouver has to offer. For example, the 2012 Summer Concert Series drew nearly 40,000 people to Esther Short Park, while the Riverview Six to Sunset Concert Series drew 6,000 to 7,000 each week. Leavitt said the City had received a “record number” of new event applications for this summer, and expects returning event attendance to grow.

At events, said Leavitt, “people get to see firsthand that Vancouver is alive on the weekends, and has so much to offer beyond the 9-to-5 hours.”

Other City projects include the Waterfront Access project, which focuses on reconnecting people to the Columbia River and attracting $1.3 billion in private investment, and the Digital Economy project, which partners with several agencies to promote a digitally savvy workforce.

“Downtown is a key attractor for emerging software and digital media companies as evidenced by Gravitate Design’s recent investment in the former Koplan building,” said Leavitt.

Another unique City project is their pre-lease program. When a business is considering buying or leasing a building, the City arranges a complementary walk-through with several City department contacts to identify any significant building code requirements and to help business owners decide whether a building is right for them. This program, said Leavitt, provides certainty, customer service, and a streamlined process for businesses investing in Vancouver. The City has held nine pre-lease walk-throughs – and three businesses moved forward with investing in downtown this year. One business, said Leavitt, said that the excellent customer service is why he chose to invest in downtown Vancouver.

Rafferty said that the Revitalize Washington conference will be held in mid-May at the Hilton Vancouver.

“They’re coming to Vancouver because they know there is so much happening,” said Rafferty. “They want to know ‘How are we doing it? How do we get so much cooperation from city government and downtown partners? How do we get volunteers excited?’”

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