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While dialogue remains at an effective standstill, Mayor Rick Rogers wants WestRock to 'act accordingly' and allow new development

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - The mill in Newberg has been shuttered since January 2016, several months after its purchase by WestRock.

With mounting frustrations over the fate of the vacant WestRock mill property, city officials are hoping to convince the Atlanta-based company to give up the mill.

Mayor Rick Rogers said he, along with councilors Elizabeth Curtis Gemeroy and Stephanie Findley, are planning to meet with WestRock officials in "the not too distant future" to discuss where the city goes from here to get the site redeveloped.

"I've sent them letters over the last couple of months, saying this is what we want," Rogers said regarding redeveloping the dormant mill.

Rogers pointed to other similarly closed mills in Oregon, which have been sold off to neighboring Native American tribes.

"I'm saying 'See the possibilities?'" he said.

The mill site has been closed since January 2016, about four months after the Georgia company purchased the site. City officials have recently met with WestRock officials about the future of the mill, although the City Council recently chose to move forward with updating the zoning of the site to allow additional uses.

Over the winter, a citizens committee advised city staff to move forward to update the zoning of the WestRock mill site to allow additional uses, despite WestRock's preference to leave the site alone. The committee members were presented with two alternatives to the original 2002 plan, labeled D and E. Alternative D reflects the wishes of WestRock to leave the entirety of the site as industrial, with little or no public access on the property. Additionally, there would be an open space buffer on the east side of South River Street to separate the industrial area.

WestRock indicated to the city – after having visited the site with city officials – they wanted to keep the closed mill for industrial purposes. They also said they wanted to have street or trail connectivity on the site and they have expressed a willingness to allow trails along the river.

Alternative E was to allow mixed use development of the mill site, which the committee moved for and advised staff to head toward.

Community Development Director Doug Rux, City Manager Joe Hannan, Public Works Director Jay Harris and Rogers met over the winter with WestRock officials and toured the site to discuss the city's riverfront master plan. Those talks centered around the city's water treatment plant, which is on the mill site, as well as discussing the master plan in general to get WestRock's opinion.

Rogers said depending on how things go with the subcommittee, they may look into contacting a public affairs group to get WestRock's attention. Hannan, who was not available for comment, has also indicated a desire to get a public relations firm involved regarding WestRock's inattention to the mill. He has also expressed a desire to get company officials involved.

"They do respond, but it's nothing very committal," Rogers said of when he sends letters to WestRock.

He also said the city is not spending any money right now on this, that all the hours he and the other councilors spend on the subcommittee is volunteer time. He said this is because, despite their efforts, the mill is still privately held.

"I hope so," he said of the group being able to capture WestRock's attention. "At least we've got a group to try and study it and try to keep the dialogue going. Hopefully (WestRock) will see the benefit to turning it over to an entity that can benefit from it … Hopefully they will see the value in that and act accordingly."

He added that he hopes WestRock officials eventually will contact Newberg officials directly, as the city has had to go through government affairs to this point.

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