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River planners and advocates come together around the Willamette’s Central Reach

Question: What do a robust river economy, a healthy river and vibrant waterfront districts have in common?

Answer: The Willamette River’s Central Reach.

All three ideas were topics of discussion at a two-day open workshop on December 4 and 5. More than 70 people participated in a series of facilitated sessions devoted to improving the Willamette riverfront area in the Central City. The results of the workshop will help staff develop a Central Reach Urban Design Concept, which will be incorporated into the Central City 2035 planning effort and the update to the Willamette Greenway Plan.

Based on feedback from each session, it’s clear that Portlanders want to see more activities, uses and people engaged in the riverfront area. An overarching theme is to increase human access to the water for recreation, transportation and enjoyment. People view Tom McCall Waterfront Park as a major place for transformation. Think small commercial uses, recreation, cultural and historical attractions, including an urban beach for swimming. On the east side, the OMSI area has great potential to be an emerging waterfront district with the new light rail station and pedestrian/bike bridge over the river, which will draw many more people to the riverfront. Expanding this area with new shops, cafes, cultural and historical attractions like a maritime museum, a boat school and increased boat access could make this a popular destination for the region.

Participants also talked about the Downtown riverfront area as having an identity and sense of place that brings people together through a variety of land- and water-based activities that reflect the history, culture and natural environment. Commercial boating could become more prolific with cruise, excursion and river transit opportunities converging downtown. Clusters of uses such as retail, recreation, entertainment and other businesses could form destination points that add vibrancy to the waterfront. Acknowledging that new uses and associated development need to mitigate for environmental impacts, key focus areas indentified include the Rose Quarter/Convention Center, OMSI and the light rail station under construction, andWaterfrontPark.

Maintaining and improving habitat areas for fish, birds and other wildlife by enhancing river banks with native vegetation and maintaining in-water shallow habitat is a priority, especially in key areas in the Central Reach. The Hawthorne Bowl riverfront area could be reconfigured to support both swimming and fish migration habitat because these activities occur at different times of the year. Also, creating habitat wildlife corridors throughout the Central City will allow birds and other species to safely move through downtown and benefit humans. Finally, Waterfront Park could be a place where part of the seawall is replaced with a steps lined with native vegetation down to the river for easy access to swim, paddle or simply splash in the water.

So the area in and around the Willamette River in the Central City is poised to become much more of a playground for all Portlanders, regional residents and visitors. Find out more by visiting the project website or contact Debbie Bischoff at debbie.bischoff@portlandoregon.gov .