Downtown-waterfront redevelopment | GUEST OPINION

Last month, I attended the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD) in Los Angeles to share Marysville’s downtown-waterfront revitalization plans and receive feedback from fellow mayors and a panel of nationally renowned urban design experts.

I was invited by MICD with all expenses paid through a National Endowment for the Arts grant. MICD is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the American Architectural Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors.

The visit was an eye-opening and invaluable experience in so many ways. I returned to Marysville with a boost of confidence in the direction we’re headed with our downtown-waterfront redevelopment and more tools to make it happen. Equally important, the great feedback provided by urban design experts is currency I brought home gleaned out of three intensive days that you can’t get anywhere else.

Design decisions for public spaces goes to the root of what makes a good city great. If we’re deliberate and committed to addressing design challenges in downtown and waterfront plans, our actions will enrich our city and our citizens, and make Marysville not only a great place to live and visit, but a great place for businesses to prosper for generations.

Seven mayors from mainly Western states engaged leading design experts at CityLAB, a think tank within UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design. The group included the Mayors of Corvallis, Ore.; Butte-Silver Bow, Mont.; Reno, Nev.; Buckeye, Ariz.; and the California cities of Rialto and Vallejo. The visit included tours of successful urban design projects and a panel discussion with students.

Sessions were organized around case studies, and mulling over the most critical urban design challenges facing our cities. We each presented a key issue from our respective cities for other mayors and urban design practitioners to discuss.

I presented Marysville’s initiative to revitalize the downtown-waterfront area, with a future that envisions mixed-use projects that create more 24/7 urban living, with shops, restaurants and boutiques; and pedestrian improvements for better walkability. The city would also look to take advantage of water recreation and ecotourism opportunities embodied in Ebey waterfront and the Tulalip Tribes’ Qwuloolt estuary restoration project.

This conference was an incredible opportunity for mid-sized cities like Marysville. It was an eye-opening experience hearing the other mayors’ stories about their circumstances, and getting cutting-edge perspectives on how to move forward with major design and development plans in the 21st century.

The highlight of the conference was the expert feedback provided by a team of urban design professionals and professors from different parts of the county, and as far away as New York City.

Panelists and mayors saw the waterfront as a huge opportunity bolstered by the Qwuloolt project, agreed with our planned spray park as a driver for bringing people downtown, supported efforts aimed at cleaning up crime and downtown’s curb appeal, and they liked the charm of Third Street, suggesting that the themes and commercial activity should extend down to the waterfront, with improved “walkability.”

They also suggested restaurants within walking distance of Ebey Waterfront Park and the boat launch as, for example, an after-fishing spot to eat, noise buffers to minimize train noise, an amphitheater or public gathering space closer to the water, and a piecemeal approach to mixed-use housing projects to slowly build a sense of community downtown, on a smaller scale than a consultant team working with the city recommended earlier this year.

Those ideas mesh well with our vision and goals to make our downtown more attractive and inviting to attract private investment, and build a “community within a community” and culture unique to downtown.

We envision a mix of recreational, housing and commercial uses, better sidewalks and street “walkability,” gateway improvements, new attractions like the spray park coming to Comeford Park this summer, modest traffic and landscaping improvements, and making full use of the Qwuloolt Trail along Ebey waterfront and the unique aquatic, recreational and interpretive assets that it represents.

The experts also mulled over how the city could best go about working with the Marysville Mall owners to create access to the waterfront, for the mall owner’s and tenants’ benefit, as well as the community’s.

We have moved well beyond identifying a bold vision that will establish new roles for our downtown-waterfront area, thanks to consensus-building among elected, community and business leaders and citizens, and a design team of consultants earlier this year that helped us keep up our momentum. The perspectives I gained at the MICD conference will help fuel the decision-making that’s ahead. As I have mentioned before, an endeavor such as this generally takes shape over several years and this is no exception.  We are in the process of doing a number of things that will hopefully get the table set for an infusion over time of private investment leading to the desired outcomes.

The panel that conducted the design case study will provide their recommendations back to each of the cities in writing this month. We eagerly await their results.

Mayor Jon Nehring can be reached at mayor@marysvillewa.gov or 360-363-8091.


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