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Move to former General Distributing Inc warehouse on Fir Street could reduce pressure on the site at Waterboard Park

Oregon City commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to approve a $7.1 million purchase that will create a new future location for the city's Public Works Operations Center.

MAP COURTESY: CITY OF OC - Former General Distributing Inc warehouse on Fir Street set for purchase by Oregon City officials.Rather than locating the facility next to Waterboard Park, the new 4.79-acre site on Fir Street will allow for the Public Works Department to share space with a Parks Maintenance Facility, officials say. Oregon City Manager Tony Konkol said co-locating the two departments into one facility will increase efficiency and accomplish the City Commission goal of addressing critical facility needs.

Additionally the pending sale of the former General Distributing Inc warehouse on Fir Street could reduce pressure on the site at Waterboard Park. McLoughlin Neighborhood Association leaders had sued the city in an effort to force the previous proposal to a vote of citizens.

A county judge last month determined that the current Public Works area was never dedicated as parkland, even if thought of as parkland by local residents. MNA had threatened to appeal the decision that would have cleared the way for construction at the site without a public vote.

Columbia Distributing closed the warehouse after acquiring GDI. The property at 13895 Fir St. is currently owned by GDI RE Acquisition LLC.

Oregon City has been saving funds, approximately $12.5 million, over 15 years to provide a modernized Public Works Operations Center.

"The announcement of GDI's permanent closure in February was a surprise, we were saddened to lose a large longtime employer in Oregon City," said Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay. "It is a mixed blessing that their warehouse fits the needs of our field operations. Due to our careful planning and saving, we do not have to ask the community for bonding authority or tax increases to complete this transaction. We will be able to work within our existing resources for this project."

Although they fought the lawsuit, city officials had never been completely happy with the previous location for a Public Works expansion, which is a constrained site that would necessitate an elevator to place the department on two levels of the largely steep area below Waterboard Park. With a lack of large parcels available for purchase, Oregon City worked to create a master plan for the current Public Works Operations Center, near Waterboard Park at 122 S. Center St.

"In the past, there have been limited opportunities to purchase parcels that are appropriate for a operations facility and sufficient size to accommodate our needs," said John Lewis, Oregon City's Public Works director.

While testifying in court on the Waterboard Park case, Lewis estimated that building the operations center at the site next to the park will cost more than $21 million, while the purchase of the Fir Street site has a price tag only a third that size and includes many operations-facility amenities, such as 16,000-square-feet of office space, 51,000 square feet of covered storage areas and two 10,000-gallon fuel tanks.

Neighborhood representatives have expressed support for Oregon City's plan to locate the Public Works and parks functions at the Fir Street location, and are cautiously optimistic that the 60-day due-diligence period for acquisition of the property will pass without any surprises. According to the neighborhood's attorney, Jesse Buss, MNA members are applauding Oregon City's move to purchase the Fir Street property. 

"The MNA members I've spoken to since learning of the Fir Street purchase are very supportive of it… If implemented, not only would this decision move the Public Works Operations Center away from Waterboard Park, but it would save the taxpayers a lot of money when compared to the cost of building the facility on the park site," Buss said. "With this plan, the taxpayers may be able to save millions of dollars while keeping all of the Waterboard Park property on the city's parks inventory. Handled properly, this plan has the potential to be a real win-win-win for the city, the MNA and the people of Oregon City as a whole."

However, Lewis said that "the overall site [next to Waterboard Park] will remain a critical component to the city's future needs." Hundreds of thousand of dollars in research conducted for the Public Works Master Plan at Waterboard Park will be largely transferable to the Fir Street acquisition, Lewis added.

Neighborhood chair Cameron McCredie said the plan to acquire the Fir Street property is a move in the right direction.

"With the neighborhood fighting two and a half years to protect our parkland and quality of life, I'm pleased the city now has a better location in mind," McCredie said. "The wider community will be better served in a much more efficient manner for decades to come. It's unfortunate we ended up in the courts, but we can all take pride in the fact that throughout all of this both sides conducted themselves in a civil manner."

In the next 60 days, the site will undergo environmental and structural surveys as inspectors work to ensure that city officials are fully informed of any pre-existing conditions before closing on the purchase.

"I am keeping my fingers crossed that our due diligence in reviewing the Fir Street site and existing buildings will find no significant issues," Lewis said. "If significant issues arise and this site no longer a sound investment, the city will reassess the opportunity."

After the due-diligence period, Oregon City officials plan to proceed with the final purchase and issue a request for proposals on architectural design and building services.

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