New Community Park Centerpiece of Revitalized Vancouver Waterfront

WSP USA led the design team for a park in Vancouver, Washington that provides public access to the city’s downtown riverfront for the first time in 75 years.

Built on the site of a former industrial paper mill, the 7.3-acre Vancouver Waterfront Park is the centerpiece of the City of Vancouver’s $1 billion waterfront revitalization program, a 20-year community vision crafted to reconnect the city to the banks of the Columbia River.

The $24 million park project features plazas, an extension of the Columbia River Renaissance Trail, viewpoints, water feature, a playground, performance area and an urban beach along nearly 2,500 feet of riverfront. The focal point of the park is Grant Street Pier, a concrete, cable-stayed structure projecting almost 100 feet over the Columbia River.

“The new waterfront park anchors a master plan for multifamily and commercial growth in the Vancouver downtown area,” said David Sacamano, senior project manager for WSP USA. “The site is full of new social and recreational opportunities not previously available.”

WSP served the City of Vancouver as prime consultant, project manager, landscape architect of record, and structural engineer of record for Vancouver Waterfront Park and Grant Street Pier. Services included park design, public outreach, natural resource assessment, landscape architecture, structural design of the pier substructure and site structures, and environmental and land use permitting.

PWL Partnership provided primary design for the park, artist Larry Kirkland and Martin/Martin provided the design and engineering for the pier’s superstructure, PBS provided civil design, Mott MacDonald provided shoreline design, GRI provided geotechnical engineering, and Fisher Marantz Stone designed the architectural lighting systems.

The project was completed in September 2018, and was recently recognized as a recipient of a national American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Honor Award for structural systems. It was also named 2019 Project of the Year by ACEC-Oregon, and won the Washington state chapter’s best-in-the-state Gold Award in the social, economic and sustainable design category.

“It is an honor to be recognized by the professional engineering community and to receive a 2019 ACEC Honor Award,” Sacamano said. “The panel of judges acknowledged the complexity of the design success achieved by the team.”

©2019 WSP USA

The waterfront park extends 2,500 feet along the shoreline, yielding a diversity of recreation and open space amenities including a play area, sculpture, and an urban sand beach.

Reconnecting the Downtown

For more than 75 years, downtown Vancouver was separated from the Columbia River by industrial development, the railroad and Interstate 5. There was no public access to the water and for many years the defunct industrial site sat empty.

The city invested more than $65 million in public infrastructure improvements and public amenities to reconnect the people of the city with the river.

“Reconnecting the downtown to the river acts as a redevelopment catalyst for the community, accommodating more than 3,000 new residential units and one million square feet of mixed-use space,” Sacamano said. “The Vancouver Waterfront Park is public space that makes the entire development an attractive place to live, work and visit.”

Providing interest and educational experience to the park are numerous displays of public artwork throughout the site. The overall development of the area is anticipated to create over 2,000 permanent jobs.

“The Vancouver Waterfront Park sets the groundwork for a mixed-use urban redevelopment vision,” Sacamano said. “This project creates a signature outdoor environment that is already well-loved by the public.”


Careful attention was paid to developing an architectural lighting approach that highlights the pier’s unique structural systems and activates deck and plaza during the night.

Inspiring the Art

To maintain unhindered aquatic species migration, WSP designed the Grant Street Pier, situated between the Columbia River to the south and the Vancouver Waterfront development to the north, with no in-water structures.

“Artist Larry Kirkland envisioned the pier floating above the river, and his overall vision challenged the engineers to be creative,” Sacamano said. “For example, he wanted the deck as thin as possible, but such a thin structure could be at risk for unpleasant flexibility.”

The pier’s thin concrete and heavy timbered wood deck is suspended over the water by cables and a massive, but mostly hidden, foundation system. Engineers designed a post-tensioned concrete deck that was three-feet thick, which spans 70 feet from shore to the forestays and cantilevers 32 feet beyond that. The pier features tuned-mass damping harmonic absorbers to mitigate unwanted vibrations.

The engineering so impressed Kirkland that as the design progressed, he changed his plan for the etched stainless steel public display panels that are affixed to the backstays to feature structural engineering concepts and project design details.

“On this project, the art inspired the engineering, which in turn inspired the art,” Sacamano said. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no cable-stayed pier structure in the world quite like the Grant Street Pier, effortlessly blending form, function and endurance.”

The pier features white-colored concrete to achieve the desired aesthetic instead of painted steel or painted concrete. It was a design decision that provides economic and environmental sustainability benefits, as it reduces maintenance requirements and eliminates the need for future over-water painting and potential impacts to sensitive aquatic species.

“The variety of materials chosen for the park, including white concrete, galvanized and stainless steel, Columbia River black basalt blocks and pavers, timber decking and a native plant palette, provides visual variety from one end of the park to the other,” Sacamano said. “The architecture of the restaurants that bookend the plaza provide an excellent complement to a magnificent park.”


The pier’s robust center mast and suspension cables, reminiscent of sailing ship’s rigging, support a thin structural deck that appears to float above the water’s surface.

Sustainable Improvements

The project design included significant ecological sustainability efforts, including the removal of old in-water piling and concrete debris, restoration of shorelines and riparian vegetation and other habitat enhancements.

The native and adaptive planting palette reduces irrigation and fertilizer needs; and areas where small amounts of irrigation are needed, smart irrigation controllers and weather stations minimize water usage.

Storm water runoff is collected in low-impact development (LID) swales, protecting the river from fertilizers and landscape chemicals. Runoff from the wood surfaces of the pier is collected and treated in LID bioretention treatment cells.

Engineering Solutions

A large trunk sewer line that runs through the middle of the plaza to serve the waterfront redevelopment posed some design and construction challenges for the pier. It influenced the design of one of the cable backstays.

Micropiles were chosen as the deep elements for the northwest backstay to straddle the sewer pipe and provide the required structural capacity with a minimum of construction risk. In addition, the lateral spread bulkhead tieback anchors had to be carefully designed to avoid drilling through or influencing the pipe during construction.

Two of the 27 drilled shafts encountered large underground voids due to the presence of a concrete debris field leftover from former development. These voids swallowed a large volume of concrete, and during extraction of the temporary casing, pulled the concrete off the rebar, resulting in inadequate concrete cover.

“The engineers devised a repair that involved core drilling the flawed shafts, and socketing in a large pipe to replace the capacity of the shaft,” Sacamano said. “The highly complex analysis and design of the repair was successfully performed throughout construction, keeping the project moving forward.”

©2019 WSP USA

The waterfront park serves as both a destination for visitors and the living room for adjacent mixed-use development, restaurants, and a hotel. Design details include heavy timber decking, stainless steel railings, and integrated seating.

Future Trend

Vancouver Waterfront Park is an example of how WSP is committed to creating a world that is Future Ready™—thinking beyond the conventional to develop solutions that create livable and sustainable urban space in areas where it would have previously been unthinkable.

“Waterfronts will always be the economic engines of a community and the hubs of transportation, commerce, employment and industry,” Sacamano said. “Changing economies and land use patterns will transform many underutilized urban waterfronts into grand public spaces, restored riparian environments, and new thriving neighborhoods.”

The realization of this vision in Vancouver is catalyzing significant private investment on a previously inaccessible, post-industrial waterfront site.

“The restored shoreline provides local ecological uplift while creating resilient infrastructure that protects the upland public and private investments,” Sacamano said. “I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I see people enjoying the park, its trails and the pier. It is a truly spectacular and special place.”

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