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Tribe keeping options open for long-dormant Wood Village site

OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - The Multnomah Greyhound Park in Wood Village has a new owner, the Grand Ronde Tribe.Despite the Grand Ronde tribe finalizing its purchase of the former Multnomah Greyhound Park in Wood Village, plans for the site remain unclear.

Justin Martin, lobbyist for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which announced the property purchase last week, said the tribe is developing a business plan that would “further diversify its economic base.”

A failed effort began in 2005 by two private developers to build the state's first, and only, nontribal casino on the site, a long-abandoned former dog-racing facility on Southwest 223rd Avenue. It was three years ago when the effort finally died as Oregon voters soundly rejected the proposal. Since then, the former dog-racing track has only faded more deeply into decay.

When the 31-acre property, located behind the Wood Village Town Center, was listed for sale in April 2015 for $11.2 million, Wood Village city officials hoped for a residential or commercial development.

Tribal Chairman Reyn Leno said the tribe discussed the potential sale about two years ago with Wood Village, but the discussion went nowhere. But when the site was officially listed on the market, the tribe jumped at the opportunity.

“A lot of people don't realize the Portland area is probably the second-largest population for our tribal members, so it's something we thought about for jobs, and of course, economic development,” Leon said. “We have some endowments we feel we can get established there. We feel it's a great opportunity to have something built there that will be there for a long time, have a good income, be good for the tribe and good for the community.”

Leon added anyone would be “crazy” to not consider purchasing 31 acres near Portland.

For Wood Village city leaders, the purchase is especially exciting. The tribe intends to remove the greyhound park's grandstand structure within the next month.

“We are delighted that the property is moving and that the tribe has committed to remove the existing dilapidated building,” City Manager Bill Peterson said. “What we don't know at this point is what is planned for the development of the property."

In prior discussions, the city had talked about a mixed-use development — perhaps housing, office spaces, retail or something entertainment based. But Leon confirmed the tribe doesn't have a set plan.

“We actually went up and walked the property (on Indigenous Peoples' Day, Oct. 12)," he said. "Until we get it leveled and everything removed — which will be immediately after the purchase, toward the end of month — and get a better idea, it's hard to visualize what you would put there until you get it down to the ground.”

A potential temporary use for the space could be storage facilities, Leon said.

Fairview Mayor Ted Tosterud said he has some ideas for what the Grand Ronde tribe could do with the space in the meantime.

"In the interim, before they develop, it has been suggested that they level the building, plant grass and create a couple of soccer fields and maybe a Little League baseball diamond," Tosterud said. "If they did this or something similar it would create a lot of goodwill in the community."

Leon noted the tribe wants to have a discussion with Wood Village leaders and for input before making final decisions.

Casino in the future?

The elephant in the room, as Peterson called it, is whether or not the tribe intends to replace the Multnomah Greyhound Park with a casino. The answer to the question is complicated. At this point, the tribe could not open a casino on the site, because Oregon law restricts each tribe to one casino, which must be located on tribal lands.

The tribe operates Spirit Mountain Casino, the state’s largest, in Grand Ronde, west of McMinnville. If state rules change, a casino could be part of the Wood Village site’s future. But Leon noted it may not be what is in the tribe's best interests.

“I think you've got to look at two things: Are you building a casino like Spirit Mountain, or are you looking at private gambling, which was proposed at one time on that land?” Leon asked. “Both have a lot of hurdles. We've got a huge investment at Spirit Mountain, and we're not going to do anything that's going to harm our investment. We'll look at all the options we've got on the table for it, and look at Wood Village, but we can't just build a big, huge casino there and have an empty building at Spirit Mountain.”

Another factor that influenced the tribe's decision is the substantial amount of money it spent fighting the private casino originally proposed for the site.

“It only made sense for us. If we had the opportunity to purchase, it would take that threat away,” he said. “And make money for the tribe and add to the community.”

Peterson said Wood Village was supportive of a casino. But that was largely because of the proposed benefits for the city, which included public safety funding, community enhancements and an assortment of other benefits.

“Absent that conversation about what all would occur, I can't tell you where the community members or our community would come from,” Peterson said.

The possibilities

Troutdale Councilor Eric Anderson, who called the final race at the greyhound park in 2004, said he thinks the sale is terrific.

“The thing that excited me the most is in the initial press release. They said they are going to immediately demolish that building, and they’re going to grade and level the land and make it shovel ready,” Anderson said. “That’s going to remove an eyesore from our community.”

Gresham Councilor Lori Stegmann said she’s hopeful for what the purchase and eventual change can bring.

“I hope it will be a positive, economic boost to East County that will bring more jobs and not just any jobs, but family-wage jobs,” Stegmann said. “East County has one of the highest levels of poverty. I would welcome any socially responsible development to that site, that respects the desires of this community.”

Tosterud said he would like to see something family oriented, such as something similar to the Great Wolf Lodge in Centralia, Wash, or a facility for senior citizens.

"I would hope they would consult with the three cities to get input on what we feel would best serve the communities," he said. "I have citizens asking me about a care facility. They have lived in Fairview most of their lives, and when it comes time for them to move into (a) care facility, they would like to stay in the area."

The possibilities, however, are restricted at this junction because of the site's location within the Town Center Zone.

“The site itself is already part of a master plan in the Town Center, and that master plan does call to meet housing targets and for mixed-use development,” Peterson said.

This means if the project moves forward without changes to the master plan, housing would be a requirement. The issue is complicated further by a Transportation and Growth Management Grant awarded to Wood Village this year. As part of the grant process, the master plan is being reviewed, which could lead to changes in development requirements for the Town Center Zone.

The property is within the Wood Village Urban Renewal Agency. This means for new construction or added-value, the new value is not taxed by the underlying agencies: the school district, Multnomah county, irrigation district, soil and conservation district, and others. The tax rate for the URA, not including bonds, is $16.27 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“All those funds go directly to the URA, and that agency then takes on the special projects that are included in the agency plan,” Peterson said.

That plan includes projects like improving Wood Village Boulevard and other traffic-related projects.

“I think it's going to be a really exciting project for both the tribe and Wood Village,” Leon said. “There are other projects we've been a part of, but not actual ownership, so that makes this really exciting.”

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