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The City Council has approved a town center plan and is expected to approve urban renewal.

COURTESY MAP: CITY OF CORNELIUS - The TenBlock District includes subareas of central Cornelius dubbed the Core Neighborhood, to the north and east of Cornelius Elementary School; the Town Center Corridor, including the eastern end of the Highway 8 couplet; and the Town Center Core, covering notable spots like the Cornelius Public Library, Veterans Memorial Park and the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center.For the past decade or so, the commercial corridor through Cornelius has been evolving.

Now, the city officially has a plan to guide that development.

The Cornelius City Council approved the town center plan on June 17. It lays out goals for what city officials want their core area to look like, as well as how they hope to accomplish them.

The town center itself is being rebranded as the "TenBlock District," bounded by Eighth, Ninth and 10th avenues to the west, 20th avenue to the east, and the rail lines that run through Cornelius in the north and the south.

City officials envision a cultural district within that area, including public art, interpretive signage, and a "multicultural" mix of restaurants and other retail and service businesses. Officials like City Manager Rob Drake hope the cultural mix reflects Cornelius' diversity and is inclusive of the city's Spanish-speaking residents, who make up about half of the population.

"The Latino community has become certainly more substantial in Cornelius," Drake said. "But we're also partnering more with Latino organizations."

In recent years, Cornelius' major streets have been given a makeover — thanks, at least in part, to funding from Washington County and Metro, the regional government. But even still, the Highway 8 couplet that runs through the city shows signs of blight, with run-down homes and shuttered businesses lining Adair and Baseline streets.

The council-approved plan calls for the city to purchase and redevelop a few of those derelict properties, applying for state money to help with any environmental cleanup that is needed for sites like the former Estby gas station at the corner of Baseline Street and 10th Avenue.

Newer buildings, like the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and Cornelius Place along Adair Street, are a touchstone for the town center plan.

"I think when you look at Virginia Garcia, you look at the Memorial Health Center, and then you look at the library, it shows what's possible down here," Drake said. "And we believe it's going to spur smart redevelopment in our downtown."

City officials' goal is to keep the Highway 8 corridor functional — tens of thousands of vehicles drive it on a daily basis — while making the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly, attractive and economically vital.

"It does encourage walking, and it encourages a place where people want to come," Drake said of the TenBlock District the plan envisions. "And it's not that this downtown is awful, because it's not — but there's a lot that needs to be done to make it a place where people want to spend a Saturday afternoon."

Drake is pleased with the community involvement and interest in the town center plan.

"We've had a rough background here, and things have changed," Drake said.

Cornelius was recognized last month as an All-America City — one of 10 across the United States to receive the prestigious honor from the National Civic League. The award specifically called out the downtown redevelopment that Cornelius has seen over the past decade, from the street improvements to new buildings like Cornelius Place, which houses the library downstairs and apartments priced for low-income seniors upstairs.

"This downtown looks so different today than it did 10, 12 years ago," Drake said. "I feel really passionate about this, because we've done so much in a relatively short period of time. … When you think of all the positives and the pulling of people together that we've done, I'm personally really proud of it."

The council is scheduled to adopt a complementary urban renewal plan next Monday, July 15.

Proposed projects in the urban renewal plan include a community splash pad, a facade improvement program to help business-owners pay for exterior improvements, LED streetlights, and an extension of North Holladay Street west from North Fourth Avenue.

An urban renewal district gets its money from tax dollars, but not by actually raising taxes itself. Instead, the current level of property tax revenue is "frozen." It would continue to go to the city, fire department and other agencies that collect taxes in Cornelius. Meanwhile, any new revenue that's collected — thanks to higher property values, new development and other changes — would be ticketed for urban renewal.

After 22 years, unless its life is extended, the urban renewal plan would expire and the urban renewal district would stop collecting those taxes.

Along with projects like the splash pad, urban renewal would pay for the purchase and redevelopment of the Western Fire Apparatus and Estby sites, along with a derelict house adjacent to the Cornelius Public Library.

Grande Foods, formerly Hank's Thriftway, is also a candidate for the city to buy and overhaul. The plan describes it as a longer-range possibility, though. The supermarket, unable to compete with nearby Walmart and struggling amid the recession, closed in 2010. But the building still hosts some smaller businesses, and the property is also used for events. It also features a hand-painted mural on its south side, which is probably the most notable public art in town.COURTESY ILLUSTRATION: CITY OF CORNELIUS - An artist's rendering shows what a redeveloped Cornelius town center could look like in several years' time, including a rebuilt Cornelius Elementary School and a community splash pad on blocks adjacent to Mazatlan Grill and the Cornelius Public Library.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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