Tourism group presents vision for old city hall
For months now, Clackamas County Tourism & Cultural Affairs (CCTCA, also known as Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory) has zeroed in on West Linn's vacant former city hall building as a potential new home.
City staff and the West Linn City Council have largely been receptive to the idea, though some concerns were expressed during work sessions earlier in the fall. During another work session Monday, Nov. 20, representatives from CCTCA and other groups that would use the building as part of a potential use agreement presented their vision to the council.
"What we're intending for this that it's a unique and innovative partnership that actually includes the City of West Linn as a partner," said Danielle Cowan, the executive director of CCTCA.
The old city hall — which also served as a police station before a new building was completed in 2014 — is one of two "underutilized properties" that the City issued a Request for Information/Proposals (RIFP) on in late 2016. In March 2017, CCTCA submitted its proposal for the cultural center, and the City Council was initially receptive to the idea — particularly if CCTCA was willing to fund a significant amount of the necessary improvements to the aging building.
At the Nov. 20 meeting, CCTCA said it hoped for a "partnership agreement" with the City committing to use the building as a cultural center for at least 15 years, with an option to renegotiate the agreement if need be. CCTCA and other partners would invest about $1 million in the repurposing of the building while also agreeing to cover ongoing maintenance and operations costs.
The vision is to repurpose the building as a "cultural center" housing CCTCA as well as other groups like the Clackamas County Arts Alliance and the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition. CCTCA would occupy the second floor, while the first floor would host work space for other groups as well as other attractions for tourists.
"Downstairs, imagine the incubator space we can have for our youth, for our heritage groups, for community groups," Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition Executive Director Siobhan Taylor said. "Best of all we could have — visualize this — an interactive exhibit where people not only come in and learn about our heritage area we have here, but will have live humans in the room they can interact with."
"We bring people to the area such as travel writers and tourism-related people who would be not only interested in the falls, but the heritage that goes along with both (the falls and West Linn)," said CCTCA board chair John Erickson. "This would just enhance the entrance to West Linn, having them represent you."
Cowan said the push to move into this particular building began as it became clear the CCTCA had outgrown its current space at a county office in Oregon City. As revenues from the county's six percent transient lodging tax grew exponentially over the years, so too did CCTCA's staff.
"When I started we had four employees, and now we have 14," Cowan said. "Recently we moved people literally into a closet, that's what we're looking at."
The key issue, Cowan and others admitted, would be parking. The West Linn Paper Company — which announced in October that it would close by the end of the year — owns most of the spaces near the building.
"The potential fatal flaw is parking," she said. "None of us claim to have solved it, but we're all willing to work on it. We've been in discussions for some time with West Linn Paper, but of course the situation has changed."
Several city councilors voiced support for the proposal, and consultant John Morgan — who is leading the ongoing West Linn's Waterfront redevelopment planning project — noted during the meeting that the consultants hired for that planning were also supportive of the idea.
"(The consultants believe) foregone revenue on the building will be matched by private investments (in the area)," Morgan said. "It would be retained many times over by private investments."
City Councilor Bob Martin, however, was concerned about both parking and how the CCTCA agreement would fit with the City's overall plan for the area.
"In making this decision, we have to have (parking) resolved ahead of time," Martin said. "I think that ideally, we would make this decision with the knowledge of how this fits into the context of the (overall waterfront) plan, and also have parking solved. ... I see this as something we need to move tentatively on."
City Council President Brenda Perry saw it differently.
"There's been so much talk (about the waterfront), I think if we can get you in that place, it's like we've started — we've finally made a positive step," Perry said.
In all, Mayor Russ Axelrod, Perry and City Councilor Teri Cummings were largely supportive of the idea, while Martin and City Councilor Rich Sakelik were noncommittal.
The City and CCTCA will continue to work toward a potential agreement, and CCTCA was encouraged to visit local neighborhood associations to present its vision.