Cornelius Place donors take tour of construction
The large wooden structure rising at the corner of North Adair Street and 14th Avenue in Cornelius has doubtless drawn some gawkers.
Cliff Walters and his daughter Jamie Ali have not been among them. Though they trace their family roots to the Hillsboro and Cornelius areas, they live in Southern California. Nonetheless, they have been following the Cornelius Place construction project with keen interest.
Walters grew up in the area. His parents, who also operated a Cornelius-area nursery, were prominent philanthropists and patrons of the arts. Although neither is still living, Cliff Walters — now president of the Walters Family Foundation, which they founded in 1999 — has continued with their mission.
According to Karen Hill, the Walters Family Foundation is the largest private donor thus far to the Cornelius Place project, which will house a new 14,000-square-foot Cornelius Public Library once it is complete. Hill serves as Cornelius' library director, and she was excited Monday, July 9, to lead Walters and Ali on a tour of the construction site.
The Walters Family Foundation donated $70,000 to the library project last year. Per the foundation's request, its name will christen the library's main community room, a meeting and event space that will be located at the front of the building, along Adair Street.
"I'm very pleased that they've donated, but also they've named the community room," Hill said. "There's the Glenn & Viola Walters Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro, and then they also funded a large church in Forest Grove, so it's nice that they've done something here. … Really well-respected family, so I think it means a lot that they've made the biggest donation privately."
Cliff Walters explained that the Walters Family Foundation's official mission is to support "at-risk kids," a term that often encompasses youth growing up in poverty, unstable households, or with parents or guardians who spend much of their time away from home, such as those working multiple jobs or forced to travel regularly to care for a sick family member.
"They left it vague enough that we could interpret it, as a board, how that money should be spent," said Walters. "And we know their attitude, so that when this building came along — and there's a lot of kids that are very poor that will access this — we felt this is a worthy cause to get involved in. So not only did we help with this particular room, but we've been giving to them all along in this campaign."
The Glenn & Viola Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro bears the names of Cliff Walters' parents, a testament to their influence in the community. Although Cliff Walters has not lived in Oregon for many years, he said the Walters Family Foundation still seeks to carry on Glenn and Viola Walters' example.
"We knew that this would appeal to them if they were alive," Walters said of the library project.
He told Hill at the end of the tour, "The board will be pleased with the progress that we've got to show them."
Cornelius Place began construction after the old building where the Cornelius City Council used to meet was torn down late last year. The project has a $5.7 million price tag, with grants and donations making up much of it.
The building is not fully funded yet even nearing the halfway point in its construction, according to Hill. The piecemeal approach to funding has brought the project within $700,000 of its goal. But the library was originally planned to have another main source of cash: Cornelius' property tax receipts.
The city went to voters with a $2.4 million bond measure to build a new library in 2013. But Cornelius is one of the poorest cities in the Portland metro area, and Oregon was just beginning to emerge from a painful nationwide recession that hit the state harder than many. Voters narrowly rejected the measure, which collected 47.3 percent in a low-turnout, odd-year election — a losing margin of just 76 votes.
Undeterred, library advocates rallied to begin raising money from other sources. Last fall, they celebrated the groundbreaking of Cornelius Place — by then, a joint project between the City of Cornelius and two affordable housing developers, Bienestar and BRIDGE Housing, with significant funding from private sources as well as the Community Development Block Grant program and the Oregon Lottery.
The building has evolved from its earliest concepts — Richard Meyer, who heads the Cornelius Library Foundation, said it was first described in a visioning project in 2001 — but the centerpiece has remained a much larger library space to serve Cornelius-area residents. (Hill said she thinks it will also draw visitors from neighboring Forest Grove, and perhaps Hillsboro as well.)
Once it is complete, Cornelius Place will be a three-story building, with upper-level space partitioned into apartments for low-income residents age 55 and older. A YMCA center about 3,000 square feet in size will share the lower floor of the building with the Cornelius Public Library.
Meyer said he considers Cornelius Place "the most important project" in town.
Downtown Cornelius bears the hallmarks of urban blight, with tarnished and vacant storefronts — some of which are visibly decaying — dotting the streetscape. But the three-story mixed-use building will soon join the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and the new sanctuary at St. Alexander Catholic Church as attractive new buildings along the Adair Street strip.
Cornelius has entered the early phases of a "town center" planning project that officials hope will lead to that kind of rejuvenation throughout its central corridor. Ryan Wells, the city's community development director, said last month he considers Cornelius Place a "flagship" of sorts for that effort.
"It's going to really be a draw," Wells said of Cornelius Place. "And it's going to be a beautiful building unto itself, but I think it's definitely going to inspire additional work downtown."
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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