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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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Posts from — May 2010

SW Washington Wineries Ready for Your Visit on Memorial Day Weekend

Road trip! Eleven Clark County wineries are joining together for a Memorial Day Weekend Wine Tour this year. Each offers a unique experience to taste local vintages and enjoy scenic locations around Clark County.

Tasting Wine at Rusty Grape Vineyard

Before you go, check out Shawna Burkholder’s excellent ZEST post on local wineries and tips for touring. Two more wineries are now available since the post was written – Benke Cellars, 1804 NW 119th Street, Vancouver and Heisen House Vineyards, 28005 NE 172nd Ave, Battle Ground. Don’t leave them off your list.

Hours are May 28, 29 and 30th – 11 am – 6 pm. Tasting fees may apply.

The winemakers are waiting. The drives are spectacular. Get out there and taste (and buy) our very own wines!

May 27, 2010   2 Comments

Good Bones, Great Potential: What is YOUR Vision for Downtown Vancouver?

Houses, yards and, of course, bodies have “good bones.” They provide form, shape and the potential of great things to come. “A city is no different,” says urban visionary Michele Reeves. “Its bones are its structures, its landscape, and its general environment.”

Michele Reeves

Michele is the Principal of Rethinking Urban Spaces in Portland. She has worked with the redevelopment of Portland neighborhood shopping areas like the Mississippi and Alberta districts. She has also consulted with the cities of Gresham and Hillsboro. Under contract with Vancouver’s Downtown Association (VDA), she has been studying downtown Vancouver with a focus on retail development. She shared her findings and recommendations in April at a special VDA. A video of her presentation is available here.

Let’s start with the bones. She talked about them at length at the April meeting and in an interview with ZEST, quoted below.

“Downtown Vancouver has a great stock of older buildings, and in some stretches, such as the blocks of Main Street between 6th and 11th, they are sufficiently interconnected so that they would be able to form a successful retail district quite easily if they were populated with retail tenants,” she reports. Having retail tenants on the first floor will be critical as downtown Vancouver re-develops.

Heritage Building at 6th and Main

This was certainly the case during the 1940s and 1950s in downtown Vancouver. Mid-century photos show a vibrant retail environment and active street life up and down Main Street. Our buildings were filled with shops and shoppers.

“Having a stock of existing structures that are attractive, historic, and provide a sense of place already in existence is a very important building block for a successful urban core,” Michele states. “These buildings can be more easily renovated and offered for lease at lower rents than structures that result from new construction.”

“Your structures make your downtown a unique place on earth. Take advantage of that.”

Historic Elks Building

Downtown Vancouver's 9th Street

Landscape is another plus. “Vancouver is located along the beautiful and significant Columbia River. The city’s ability and plans to reconnect with and reclaim its heritage as a great river city is vital to giving Vancouver a positive sense of identity and bridge between its past and its future.”

Turtle Place on a Snowy Winter's Night

Turtle Place Sculpture and Centurion Building

So how do we take advantage of our “good bones”? Michele recommends eight goals:

Short-to-Medium Term Goals
1. Focus on the Core – The six-block area from 6th to 11th Street on Main Street where retail space is available is “low-hanging fruit.” North of 11th, the current focus is employment, which should be strengthened. Attract those employees down Main Street to eat and shop.
2. Adopt a new paint policy – Create historic district painting requirements, including four-color palettes on older buildings, that use color to bring vibrancy and interest to downtown. “Beige is not a color!” Michele emphatically says.
3. Adopt new awning policy – Many awnings are too large, are architecturally inappropriate and create shadowy areas.
4. Activate key vacancies – Focus on bringing retailers, particularly from 7th to 9th street where there are openings
5. Join VDA – More people should get involved with Vancouver’s Downtown Association (Hear, hear! As a member, I totally agree! Click here for a VDA brochure with membership form.)
6. Activate sidewalks – Planter boxes, sidewalk seating, public sculptures, etc could encourage people to walk from block to block and add visual interest

Medium to Long Term Goals
1. Improve storefronts – remove awnings to restore transom windows, replace aluminum facades with period appropriate storefronts
2. Activate building second-floors – renovate second floors of buildings for living spaces and offices to create a mix of retail, residential and office uses.

2nd Story Opportunity

“Vancouver is a successful edge city that is a part of a larger regional economy that should fair strongly in the decades ahead,” Michele reports.

Downtown Vancouver has a strong history, committed business community and the “good bones” to continue to attract more retail businesses and residential spaces. With the new Vancouver Community Library opening in 2011 at Evergreen and C, more small businesses moving downtown and improvement in the economy, Michele’s recommendations are not pie-in-the-sky. What would you like to see in downtown Vancouver? Please comment!

May 24, 2010   1 Comment

What is fast, high scoring and builds community?

What makes a strong community? Good schools, safe and friendly neighborhoods, effective government, busy libraries, good people…What about sports? How do athletics and athletes factor into to the picture?

When you live in a small city, you don’t expect to have a pro basketball team, particularly when there is an NBA team just across the river. But we DO have a team! The Vancouver Volcanoes, our semi-pro basketball team of the International Basketball League, played its home opener on May 7.

Mayor Leavitt Tosses the Tip-Off Ball

The game was just as much about community as sports. From the welcome by the Volcanoes dance team in the foyer of the Clark College O’Connell Sports Center to children’s face painting to an on-court family shoot out during the break and a raffle, the evening was about community. Even when a errant fire alarm briefly sent the audience and players out onto the college lawn, the kids turned it into a chance to race around the grounds and play with the Volcanoes canine mascot.

Playing with the Mascot During an Unexpected Break

Reminiscent of Everett Giants baseball games we attended in the 1990s, it was a family-oriented evening. In the words of team owner Bryan Hunter, from the game program:

“A Volcanoes game is more than just a basketball game. What we have done is created an event that focuses on activities that are fun and exciting for everyone, with the added emphasis on families and their children.”

So what about the game? I am not a sports writer but can safely report that the game was fast, high scoring with lots of three-pointers in a rough physical battle with the Yamhill HighFlyers. The team members are former college players who obviously love the game, including local Prairie High star Devin Uskoski.

The Vancouver Volcanoes

The Yamhill HighFlyers

While the teams were definitely serious about winning, there was a refreshing friendliness to the game. Where else would you see a player and referee, arm in arm, smiling about a play? You know you’re not in a mega-coliseum when you can hear what the coach is yelling to his players (or the ref) and what the players are yelling back (not always publishable). It’s full-court involvement for everyone and a lot of fun.

Lots of shooting

The final score? 135-110. We won. Go Volcanoes!

Was it better than driving to Portland, paying high prices for tickets and food, and watching players from a distant seat? The players weren’t as polished but, yes, for my money, it was more fun. An added bonus — we walked to the game. My only complaint would be about hard bleacher seats. Next time, we’ll take cushions. Not a big deal.

The Volcanoes season offers 10 home games with the last local game on June 27.Tickets are only $5 for adults 18 and over and free for kids. Details are at Go Volcanoes! Go Vancouver!

May 10, 2010   2 Comments

Out of Harmony? When Getting Your Piano Tuned is Much More Than it Seems

“I prefer my piano to people. It’s totally reliable and it’s alive. I can hear what it’s saying.” ~ Tori Amos

Is there a piece of furniture that is more alive or elicits more memories than the family piano? This week we had the piano tuned. It was in surprisingly good tune in spite of 14 years since the last tuning and its home under a large, single-paned window. (Not good, I learned.) But it did suffer from “lost motion” and a few stuck keys.

Les Fitzpatrick gives our piano a tune-up

Listening to your piano being tuned can bring back all kinds of memories. This is the piano that joined the family in 1950 and helped me learn how to play music. This is the piano that attracted the neighborhood kids as my mother patiently played the Davy Crockett theme song over and over and over again while we all sang “Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier” at the top of our adolescent lungs. It has survived moves from house to house, state (Iowa) to state (Washington). It can go years without being played and not complain when its function has been reduced to holding houseplants.

Maintaining your piano in our community is more than just having the piano tuned. We are fortunate to have the only program of its kind in the world – the School of Piano Technology for the Blind. Founded by Emil Fries in 1949, the school attracts students from around the globe. All are blind or visually impaired.

Emil Fries was also blind. He studied at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver, worked his way through the University of Washington by tuning pianos ($4 per piano) and returned to Vancouver to teach at the state school for 18 years before founding the independent piano technician program. Since 1949, the school has graduated more than 200 students.

For two years, the students (8 at a time) learn the intricacies of working with thousands of moving piano parts. They develop an “ear” for the pianos, learning how to tune and repair them. They also learn customer service skills and create business plans for their future careers. While the national unemployment rate is 60-70% in the blind community, they are bucking that horribly high rate by making plans for financial independence.

About half of the school’s budget comes from tuning, repairing and selling pianos. (Click here to see available pianos.) Staff members like Les Fitzpatrick, who tuned our piano, make about 1,000 service calls per year.

So you can make a difference while getting your piano tuned! Or you can donate your piano. Whether you own a piano or not, you can sit back, enjoy some wine and listen to a great pianist at the school’s fundraiser Jazz, Pizazz and Vino at Bethany Vineyards on Sunday, June 27 with Tom Grant on piano and Nancy Curtin on vocals.

Jazz, Tom Grant, Bethany’s gorgeous setting and a great cause — what more could you want on a summer Sunday in Southwest Washington?

And, by the way, get that piano tuned!

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May 5, 2010   4 Comments