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Experts recommend urban, mixed-use development of old veneer plant site

by: COURTESY OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS - An illustration from the Sustainable Design Assessment Team's slideshow depicts what the view from South Second Street in St. Helens, on a bluff overlooking the former Boise Cascade Co. veneer plant property, might look like if the waterfront land were developed as the team recommends.St. Helens city leaders expressed excitement over the direction of the city’s waterfront development project, in the wake of a three-day visit and presentation by a Sustainable Design Assessment Team of six experts from around the country, at a City Council work session Wednesday, May 21.

The American Institute of Architects selects a handful of communities every year to be the subject of an SDAT evaluation. St. Helens applied for the privilege last year with grant money, on City Administrator John Walsh’s initiative.

Walsh called the SDAT visit from May 12 to May 14 “pretty surreal” and “kind of an amazing experience.”

“The amount of product, it’s just amazing what they delivered,” Walsh said. “It produced a lot of information, a lot of big ideas, a lot of reaffirming concepts.”

After hearing from members of the public at a series of workshops and a community meeting at the Columbia Theatre in Old Town St. Helens on May 12, the team of experts — which included architects, an economist, a city economic development official and a civil engineer — produced a PowerPoint presentation laying out an ambitious vision for how it recommends the former Boise Cascade Co. veneer plant property should be developed.

by: COURTESY OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS - An overview map presented by the Sustainable Design Assessment Team on May 14 shows how the team, which was convened by the American Institute of Architects to evaluate St. Helens' plans to buy and ultimately utilize the waterfront land south of Old Town that is currently owned by Boise Cascade Co., recommends the waterfront should be developed. St. Helens City Hall can be seen at the top left of the map.The SDAT recommendations for the waterfront parcel, which the city intends to purchase later this year, include a boardwalk and fishing pier, apartment or condominium housing, space for open-air concerts, festivals and markets, a tourist-oriented hotel, and a row of historic ships.

Chris Finks, tourism director for the city, also heralded the SDAT visit and recommendations.

“I think we should be proud of what came out of it,” Finks said.

Council President Doug Morten called the recommendations a good “starting point.”

“I think it gave the entire community an open mind of what can happen down there, and hopefully it can be used as a stepping stone, as a first start, as a process, if we acquire the property,” said Morten.

The next step for the city will be finalizing the purchase of the veneer plant property, Mayor Randy Peterson noted.

The city of St. Helens and Boise Cascade entered into a purchase and sale agreement for the land in February, but Boise Cascade still holds the deed to the property.

At the time the agreement was signed, St. Helens and Boise Cascade agreed on a purchase price of $3 per square foot for the property, which Columbia County assesses at 16.9 acres in size — a total price of about $2.21 million.

City officials told the Spotlight in February that the price and assessed size of the property were subject to change before the deal becomes final, likely sometime later this year.

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