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Waterfront park is close to citys heart

MY VIEW • Changes to the shore of the Willamette River will tighten ties with downtown

Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park occupies a site that has evolved constantly since Portland's founding. It changed from a warehouse district to a public market to a highway, and then, in 1976, became a park.

The first master plan for the park, unveiled more than 25 years ago, envisioned a place for a variety of active and contemplative activities. Downtown has changed considerably since then Ñ and, as a result, the park also must change to meet current and future needs.

The new master plan focuses on three major goals: to bring more life to the park throughout the year, to increase views and get people closer to the water, and to strengthen the park's connection to downtown.

The master plan is the work of Portland Parks & Recreation and a 16-member committee that spent 18 months studying the park and its future. The City Council approved the plan last spring.

The parks department sees the waterfront park as a cornerstone in the network of downtown parks and open spaces Ñ such as Pioneer Courthouse Square and a new park that's planned for the block just west of the Fox Tower, between Southwest Taylor and Yamhill streets. The network also integrates Southwest Morrison and Yamhill streets, which are projected to form the city's prime retail corridor and thus will function as a major pedestrian connection to the river.

In short, with more people living and working downtown in the future, the park will be an integral part of a livelier urban core.

Here's what you will see in the next 15 years:

• The sea wall will be lined with ships that offer both pleasure trips and basic transportation. A plaza just north of Salmon Street Springs Fountain and the Hawthorne Bridge will have an all-weather surface, offering a setting for events and activities throughout the year.

• Between the Morrison and Burnside bridges (a stretch of land about 1,300 feet long, or a quarter-mile), an expanse of lawn will slope gently to the river and provide a green space for residents who live in adjacent buildings. This will be their 'park within the park' to enjoy after work and on the weekends.

• Visitors will have better views of the river in this part of the park from a set of terraced sitting steps. The sea wall will be lowered about 8 feet, creating an opportunity to enjoy the water and the boat traffic.

• The area around the Ankeny Pump Station next to the Burnside Bridge will be active, with a new water feature as the site's main attraction.

Other features, such as a play area and places to sit, will make it a destination for both residents and visitors. A new dock by the pump station will be used by a variety of boats, including cruise ships and water buses.

This increased waterfront activity will be a part of a renewed emphasis on the river as an environmental asset to the city. New native plantings along the shoreline of the 'bowl' south of the Hawthorne Bridge will reinforce the parks department's commitment to environmental values and restoring the river's health.

Southwest Naito Parkway will be redeveloped to function as a seam, rather than the barrier that it now is. A sidewalk along the park and pedestrian-friendly crossings will encourage more foot traffic. The parking lots that now line the parkway will be replaced by a series of residential and commercial structures to create a stronger and more defined edge.

Waterfront Park has always had a special place in the city's history, as a center of commerce, as a highway, as a place to enjoy the Rose Festival fleet and as a place where, in the mid-'70s, the city drove a stake into the ground and declared that open space was the site's highest and best use.

More than a million people use the park each year, and the number will only grow.

The success of the park, home to more than 20 events a year, and the success of downtown have always been intertwined. It's now time to set the bar a bit higher, to carry out a new vision for a city that is not afraid to change.

David Yamashita is a senior planner for Portland Parks & Recreation. He lives in Southeast Portland.