Troutdale or bust - city eyes booming development
On a sunny afternoon the mayor of Troutdale strolls through downtown, sunglasses on and excitedly pointing out his favorite shops.
Mayor Randy Lauer lives only a short jaunt from downtown, so he often visits outside of his duties as an elected official. He loves to grab a coffee, window shop, eat dinner, and bump into the many friendly faces similarly drawn to the quaint downtown.
"You can't beat a walk through Troutdale," Lauer said with a smile.
And while there is already a lot of love for downtown, Lauer and many others have a vision for what it all could become in the next few decades. It is one of the reasons he ran for the top seat in the city.
"I wanted to get in on the ground floor to help guide this community forward," Lauer said. "There are so many exciting projects and developments that are coming."
Troutdale is nearing a boom in development, as more and more entrepreneurs are drawn to the small community at the edge of the Columbia River Gorge. City leaders are currently working to have everything in place — from incentives to zoning — to ensure the stage is set for the next phase of Troutdale.
The main areas are Downtown Troutdale, The Confluence Site, and continued partnership with Main Streets on Halsey. It's all being done with city leaders walking a tight rope — they want to encourage growth while maintaining everything that made Troutdale special in the first place.
"A lot is changing in Troutdale, and we as a city need to make sure we keep that family-first, small business feeling," Lauer said. "We want to build on our history while welcoming the future."
City Council has focused on managing building heights and design, while not forgetting assistance and input from existing businesses. And so far, the public has been on board, asking for more dining, grocery stores, recreation, and activities for kids.
"Our goal is to remind people Troutdale is a place to visit, not just pass through on the way to the Gorge," Lauer said.
Betting on Troutdale
One of the key components for downtown Troutdale is drawing in developers and entrepreneurs.
That has been a focus for council, as many of their decisions are centered on how to continue making the city an attractive place for new businesses. They voted for a second year of system development charge reeducations for new and expanding restaurants across the city, and has included business leaders in many of the decision making processes.
"We are trying to be mindful of not competing with our existing businesses," Lauer said, adding that if current businesses are happy they will convince their friends to move to Troutdale.
Instead the city is creating amenities and incentives to make Troutdale an attractive place to do business.
"Sugarpine is the great example of a business thriving in Troutdale," said City Manager Ray Young. "We are looking for more places like that to choose our city."
Sugarpine Drive-In was opened in the summer of 2018, at the edge of Glenn Otto Community Park, 1208 E. Historical Columbia River Highway, and a stone's throw from the Sandy River. It quickly became a dining destination in East Multnomah County, with sandwiches, salads, soups, soft-serve ice cream and more.
With Sugarpine, tourists visiting the Columbia River Gorge found another reason to stop in Troutdale.
"We want to continue to bring attention to the western Gorge and expand here along the highway," Ryan Domingo, Sugarpine co-owner, told The Outlook earlier this year. "This is our home, and we want to promote business coming out to Troutdale and Corbett."
Domingo, and his co-owner and wife Emily Cafazzo, were drawn to opening a business in Troutdale. And that has since been rewarded, as customers continued to flock to the restaurant despite the pandemic. Now the couple are starting a food truck and eyeing an expansion across the river, potentially at the former Shirley's Tippy Canoe.
"Sugarpine shows people are willing to travel to Troutdale," Lauer said.
Another new business that chose the city is Good Coffee. Located at the eastern end of downtown, the specialty coffee shop based in Portland has already begun roasting beans. This summer they will open a cafe as well — the fifth location and furthest one from downtown Portland.
"They are another great addition to our community," Lauer said.
Development is also occurring along the main drag. The Discovery Building, at the corner of Southeast Dora Avenue and the Historic Highway, showcases the type of design the city wants to encourage — with natural aspects and lots of inviting windows. A tenant was set to move in last year, rumored to be a brewery, before COVID kept them away.
While a permanent occupant has not yet been found for The Discovery Building, plans are already underway to keep building in downtown. At the other end of the block, another building similar in design will be constructed in what has long been a vacant lot. That building is planned to have more spaces for tenants in the ground floor.
Other projects are in the works. Officials continue to try and find a buyer for the former City Hall, with the first preference being someone to restore the space. There is talk about someone bringing a bed and breakfast to downtown, and the owner of the Happy Valley Station food cart pod is bringing a similar set up on Southwest 257th Drive. The plan is for 12-16 food carts surrounding a main food hall, and it is expected to be completed later this year.
Confluence of development
North of downtown Troutdale used to be a dumping ground for sheep and, well, sewage.
The site, flanked by Northwest 257th Avenue and the Sandy River, was dominated by an abandoned sewage treatment plant and wool factory. But folks in Troutdale envisioned more for the land — wanting to transform the property with hotels, retail, spas and more.
But first they had to get their hands dirty to fix up the 20 acres of land.
"The Confluence Site was a black eye and blight for our city," Lauer said.
They demolished the wastewater facility, and then tackled the "thousands of sheep carcasses" which had been mass-buried in a pit between the 1920s and 1960s when the wool factory operated. Those carcasses had rotted into a real mess, that had to be removed with help from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Other work had to be completed at The Confluence Site. There were mounds of garbage, homeless individuals camping, and drug and alcohol paraphernalia left on the sides of the dirt trails that crisscross underneath the iconic water tower.
But now everything is set for development, which will take place in concert with the changes taking place in downtown.
"We have all these pieces we are trying to coordinate as a city," Young said, also mentioning the partnership with Wood Village and Fairview to continue the Main Streets on Halsey project.
Much of the major development is bookmarked for The Confluence Site, allowing downtown to maintain its current vibe. Linking the two areas will be a 3.5-acre waterfront park and trail along the Sandy River. Plans show picnic areas, natural meadows, and plenty of viewpoints overlooking the water.
At the southern end of the trail, in downtown, will be a revamped Depot Park, with the landmark yellow caboose and visitor center. The city is currently renovating the entire building from the ground up, with new interior walls and increased space. That work should be done before the summer.
The Troutdale Historical Society will continue running the museum and railroad history exhibit, while the east end of the building will become a Troutdale Visitor's Center. The city also plans to create a plaza geared toward cyclists and tourists, with bike repair stations and a small amphitheater for community events.
"We realized we get a lot of cyclists coming to downtown looking for a place to ride," Young said. "This plaza will serve as a hub they can branch out from into the Gorge."
While much of the development is several years out, city leaders are excited to be moving forward with projects that have long been stuck in the planning phases.
"We have the opportunity to see these changes actually happen in our community," Lauer said. "We can go from dreaming to getting shovels in the dirt."
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