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$60 million project will bring riverwalk, economic redevelopment to Oregon City



An estimated $60 million project with four public partners is beginning its design phase for a riverwalk and streetscape development in Oregon City.

The public-private partnered Willamette Falls Legacy project, a site overlooking the second most powerful waterfall in North America, is prepped for tremendous redevelopment and entering its design stage.

The site had historically been home to the Blue Heron mill, which closed down in 2011 creating a job vacuum in Oregon City. Before colonial settlers, the falls were a Native American fishing and trading site. It’s history is being incorporated into the design of the new developments.

SOURCE: OREGON CITY - Renderings show a vision for the potential reconnection of Main Street through the mill site, with mixed-use development and revitalized historic structures facing a walkable, multi-modal streetscape.

So far, project leaders have raised nearly $20 million for the site, which has been rezoned for light industry and tourism to create living-wage jobs along with residential units and hotels. Project leaders expect infrastructure cost to be around $50-60 million including pieces like streets, parking, power, water and sewer.

Tony Konkol, the city manager in Oregon City, said the next step of the Willamette Falls Legacy project is to continue working with the property owner, George Heidgerken, to develop a strategy about what rents can be achieved on the property, defining the infrastructure costs and attempting to target specific niche user groups who would like the location.

“The challenge of (the mill) going bankrupt and losing 175 jobs in our community, is what do we do?” Konkol said. “We were able to come together with four public partners to start to frame it, to take a scary situation and a scary property and state to define it and build regional and state support around it.”

Heidgerken has a stake in the site’s goals, along with the four public key players involved in the public-private partnership: Metro, Oregon City, Clackamas County and the State of Oregon.

“Right now we’re focusing more specifically on infrastructure sizing, costs and whatnot — that’s something we’re currently working on as the riverwalk is concurrently being designed as well,” Konkol said.

The partners laid down four core values to stick to over the complex project’s course: public access, healthy fish and wildlife habitat restoration, historical and cultural interpretation and economic development.

To facilitate economic development alongside the riverwalk’s development, Oregon City rezoned the land.

“We created the new WIllamette Falls zone, which is very similar to the mixed-use downtown, allowing a lot of your typical uses you’d see in a downtown from apartments, condos and assisted living through office space to employment opportunity to light manufacturing,” Konkol said. “We took the traditional downtown zone we had here and expanded the uses a little bit for the site, to allow that flexibility to try to get some more job opportunities on the site that we would really love to see in our downtown.”

Konkol envisions jobs tech like laser printing and 3D printing would be compatible with the urban environment Oregon City wants downtown, as well as retail opportunities.

SOURCE: OREGON CITY - The demonstration plans offer choices for the large sites redevelopment, with options for repurposed buildings and saving historical foundations.

“We’d like to see replacing family-wage jobs that were lost there, it’s a huge need in Oregon City,” Konkol said. “Wouldn’t it be great if it had some type of specialty sporting, say kayak manufacturing, right next to the Willamette?”

Like specialty sporting and tech, he’s hoping to target user groups to live and work at the new development who would appreciate and utilize the location.

The 2014 vision plan that outlines the four core values also estimated the project will create approximately 1,200 permanent jobs and 1,100 construction jobs.

“Those were early estimates that we had made based on a certain number of units of residential, a certain square footage of office and of hotel,” Konkol said. “We have some idea of the job opportunity here, but once again, now the trick is to really hone in on that, define it a little better so we can have a better estimate of what we can see there.”

Metro, project manager

Metro is leading the Willamette Falls Legacy project because it is the project manager for the riverwalk and overall project.

Kathleen Brennan-Hunter, the director of parks and nature at Metro, said the team has been working on the 22 acre site’s riverwalk for over a year, and are coming upon the design stage. She’s been working on the project since 2011, shortly after the mill closed.

“The infrastructure that we would need for some elements of the riverwalk are also necessary for private development: sidewalks, sewers, stormwater treatment, electricity,” Brennan-Hunter said. “It was zoned industrial for a very long time for that paper mill, so the storm water and electricity is all set up for the mill. It’s kind of set up to be an independent operation.”

The site is likely to have multiple buildings, which haven’t been nailed down yet. Many of the proposals currently drawn up reflect variations depending on the value of saving certain parts of historical structures.

“The intergovernmental agreement defines how we’re working together across those four agencies and lays out the project structure for Metro’s role, Clackamas County’s, the city’s and the state’s,” Brennan-Hunter said. “This is a really good model of the kind of work government can do together … we’re trying not to overlap, each bringing what our unique set of skills and resources are and pooling that all together so we can do more.”

SOURCE: OREGON CITY - Officials say establishing a viewing platform on the dam overlooking the falls will attract tourists and regional residents to a formerly inaccessible perspective of the falls.

Finances

Metro and the partnership secured a $600,000 grant from the EPA as part of a bigger brownfields study, which went toward preliminary work that would be impacted by the riverwalk structure.

The Metro Council committed $5 million from the 2006 natural area bond funds to the riverwalk project, and the State of Oregon committed $12.5 million, according to Brennan-Hunter. Legislature authorized $5 million in lottery-backed bonds toward the public access portion of the development.

Planners estimate phase one to cost $25 million, and are looking at further state funding options as well. They’re also in discussion with the owner, Heidgerken, who has contributed cash to the riverwalk and to some of the collaborative work around the site’s economic development.

In November, planners expect to host a public event to show some of the riverwalk concepts. By January, the final concept is expected to be refined before the project moves into permitting, details and construction, which is anticipated to begin in around two years.

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