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Incumbent Oregon City mayor promises more timely progress on project to redevelop former Blue Heron paper mill

Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay has been working on timing his re-election campaign filing with another big announcement: Willamette Falls developer George Heidgerken has agreed to sell his 17-acre piece of prime real estate.

Dan HolladayHolladay says that he has been working behind the scenes for over the past nine months to get another developer interested in the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. Heidgerken's Falls Legacy LLC recently paid the county more than $46,300 in back taxes and more than $39,000 to Oregon City for years of unpaid utilities.

"We forced it as much as we could in terms of getting him to pay for his back taxes and the utilities that he owed," Holladay said.

Willamette Falls' new developer, who hasn't officially signed the closing papers on the real-estate transaction, comes with Holladay's assurance of more timely progress on the project to redevelop the former Blue Heron paper mill. Heidgerken bought the property for $2.2 million out of bankruptcy court in 2014, and the price that the unnamed new Willamette Falls developer will pay has not been disclosed.

"We can't tell you the name of the group in terms of who they are, but we have done our due diligence," Holladay said. "They're very excited about moving this project forward, and they feel like they can get some stuff going on the north end of the site fairly soon."

Holladay said the development next to Highway 99E will have to be "along the same line of the general discussions we've been having" to include a mix of housing and commercial uses such as restaurants, hotels and retail stores. This direction for the site was approved in public meetings through a revision of land-use codes.

"This is beyond huge and will affect the entire region for years and years to come," Holladay said. "It'll put Oregon City on the map the way Oregon City was put on the map the first time, which is what we're celebrating at the End of the Oregon Trail with the 175th anniversary."

Under an easement agreement for construction of a $25 million walkway to the falls, Heidgerken was supposed to pay the project's four public partners $200,000 by January 2017. Holladay says that unpaid obligation will be settled as part of the closing costs during the final sale of the property in the next couple of months.

With its underground passageways and its distance from 99E, the south end of the project is going to be more complicated to develop than the north end. Holladay said that even revitalizing a part of the Willamette Falls project will help continue revitalization of the end of downtown that was not as big of a factor in winning a Great American Main Street Award for 2018.

"My general understanding for the conversations that I've had is that the front end of the project will be developed first," Holladay said. "That's going to complete that whole Main Street revitalization."

Successes in office

Besides finding a new developer for the Willamette Falls project, Holladay listed several other accomplishments during his three-and-a-half years as mayor.

• Encouraging voters to pass a $20 million police station/Municipal Court plan in September 2017. Citizens approved city officials to repay revenue bonds for the project out of a $6.50-per-month fee collected from all utility users in Oregon City. City commissioners recently approved architectural and engineering firms who plan to start construction next year.

• Approving this year's $7.1 million purchase of the former General Distributing warehouse on Fir Street for the city's Public Works Operations Center. "We can put pretty much every vehicle we own under those buildings, which is a big deal," Holladay said. "We're not going to have to send people down to Pacific Pride to refuel, which is a big savings over the long run for us in man hours."

• Approving plans to open 30 acres of light industrial development between the college and high school by building the Meyers Road extension. The area is located in an enterprise zone intended to foster development of living-wage jobs.

• Continuing negotiations on about 400 units of apartments to be constructed along a rebuilt Clackamas River Trail for citizens to continue to enjoy the park by biking and walking along the public pathway. Construction currently is underway on 244 units of garden-style apartments, along with about 12,000 square feet of live/work office space and recreational facilities, going in next to the Oregon City Shopping Center, across Main Street from the Clackamas River Trail. Holladay expects that a final development agreement for the next phase of the Clackamette Cove project will be considered by the Urban Renewal Commission next month.

• Getting appointed by the governor to the Willamette Falls Locks Commission to figure out how "it will make sense in the long run to have those locks open commercially." Holladay would like commercial boat captains to be able to swipe a key card to operate the locks, and the commission is working on whether this method for reopening the locks could be worked out financially.

• Approving a budget for a $480,000 signal-light project currently being constructed at 12th and Washington streets, where there was a pedestrian fatality in the crosswalk in 2014.

• Not taking an extra 65 cents per $1,000 of assessed value that the city could assess property taxpayers and not have to ask voters for permission. "Once you dip into it, it almost certainly never comes back," Holladay said.

Unfinished business

Holladay revealed that the city is still in negotiations with another developer to build over the Rossman Landfill site on Washington Street, near the intersection of Highway 213 and Interstate 205. He said that he has personally met with executives from Cosco a couple of times during the last two years; they are interested in building at the back corner of the new shopping center, by the intersection of Redland and Abernethy roads.

"We had a glitch, when Major League Baseball thought they might be interested in that site, before they realized that the site was not good for them," Holladay said. "I can't imagine that [MLB] would be conducive for the neighbors in that area, plus it doesn't create the halo effect that we're looking for… I'm looking for that site to employ several thousand people."

With a Home Depot already on the landfill, Holladay said any developer will know what it will take to drive pilings there and mitigate methane-gas emissions. As for the funding developers are asking from the city to address the challenges of the site, Holladay expects the city will "win at the Court of Appeals on the urban renewal thing."

With public-works equipment moving to the Fir Street site that the city recently purchased, Holladay has been asked what will happen to the old public-works site at Waterboard Park. He responded that he believes the city needs to balance its purchase of private property by putting other land back on the tax rolls.

Holladay believes the city should sell its public-works property on Center Street to the private sector for housing. He envisions town homes facing Center Street could be built backing up to the bluff.

As for the disputed area a county judge recently determined was never officially designated by the city as a park, Holladay said it could be ideal for cottage-cluster housing.

"The upper yard I'm leaving as a place we need to talk about in the long term, and we're going to have to have some serious discussions," he said. "The McLoughlin neighborhood somehow thinks that they have some kind of ownership over that parcel of land, but the McLoughlin neighborhood is somewhat over-served with parks."

Responding to critics

Holladay has two opponents in the mayoral race, Damon Mabee and Mark Matheson.

Mabee has criticized the city administration for its increased litigation costs, but Holladay put that criticism back in Mabee's lap and other residents of Mabee's neighborhood. Most of the litigation that the city is dealing with is "directly attributable to the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association" or a couple of "serial appealers," Holladay said.

As for Matheson successfully suing the city to reverse Code Enforcement fines, Holladay said the county judge was forced to reverse the Municipal Court's decision on a "technicality" involving a malfunction in the municipal courtroom's recording system.

Holladay said that Matheson overstates his promise to bring jobs to Oregon City through pending deals with state government of South Australia.

"What he calls a tech platform is an empty trailer that he's had sitting there for several years," Holladay said of his opponent.

Holladay, 57, has a long track-record in local politics that includes service on the Oregon City School Board, chairman of the Willamette Falls Media Center Board, the Clackamas County Coordinating Committee and the South Fork Water Board.

"I've served on just about every committee that you could," he said. "Overall I'm certainly the most qualified of the candidates in the mayor's race."

As for what makes his leadership style special, Holladay pointed to his willingness to spend a lot of time and effort behind the scenes meeting with developers to get major projects going.

"To get the deals done like the Willamette Falls Legacy site or the Rossman site done, those meetings by necessity have to be done in private," he said.

In the public venues, Holladay takes pride in the fact that he is known for running a "very efficient meeting."

"We don't go around and around and around," he said. "Every commissioner has an opportunity to have their say, and then we made a decision."

Holladay strictly enforces a three-minute time limit for members of the public to testify to the City Commission on each issue, with exemptions only made to allow an extra minute for especially senior citizens who are having trouble speaking.

"I enforce the rule equally, so whether you're talking about something I'm in favor of or something I'm against, I'm enforcing the rule the same way," he said.

Holladay couldn't think of a time when he was on the losing end of a City Commission vote during his term as mayor, and he doesn't begrudge fellow commissioners for making not every decision unanimous.

"I have a great amount of respect for Commissioner O'Donnell because he has a set of principles and he sticks to those," Holladay said. "Having no dissension is not good, but we're pretty much aligned in the general direction that we want the city to go."

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