'Employment' is top priority for Oregon City urban renewal
"Development that supports employment" was former Oregon City Mayor Doug's Neeley's four-word response for how he would choose between urban-renewal projects competing for tax-increment financing.
Neeley's responses to various questions, along with his extensive background in city government, impressed commissioners who voted 3-2 on Aug. 26 to appoint him to a vacant seat on the Urban Renewal Commission. On Sept. 16, city commissioners are expected to vote again to make Neeley's appointment official.
On Aug. 19, commissioners decided to use urban-renewal funds to pay off the city's remaining debt and save more than $500,000 in taxpayer money on interest payments. As previously reported, however, the city's move to pay off its debt falls short of the 2016 vote's request to close down the urban-renewal district completely.
In recognition of the close 2016 vote, Neeley said he would like to change some citizens' minds about the efficacy of urban renewal through targeted reforms and public-relations campaigns.
"It's important to really put out the information in those areas where we've had the greatest opposition to the urban-renewal district," he said.
Commissioner Denyse McGriff ended up agreeing with Mayor Dan Holladay that Adam Zagel should be appointed for his experience as a real-estate agent. Both McGriff and Holladay acknowledged Neeley as a good backup choice as the other three commissioners stuck to Neeley as the top urban-renewal candidate.
"I don't envy your choice; you've got a lot of great candidates applying for the position," Neeley told commissioners who were facing seven urban-renewal applicants.
Urban Renewal Commission Chair Frank O'Donnell said he didn't hold it against McGriff for siding with Holladay on the vote.
"To me, Mayor Neeley swung the day, and I felt that Denyse McGriff was the most qualified person when we appointed her to the commission," O'Donnell said. "These are people who have the best interests of the city at heart."
Neeley's appointment follows 16 years that he has served as an elected urban-renewal commissioner, the first 12 year as a city commissioner and the final four as mayor from 2011-14. He has also served on various city advisory committees, including for library, parks and budget issues.
Questions commissioners asked of the seven candidates acknowledged that Oregon City is at a turning point for the future of urban renewal.
Neeley said that the city still has "truly blighted areas" along Seventh Street, north of 12th Street near the former landfill and south of McLoughlin Boulevard on the former Blue Heron paper-mill property. In consideration of the recent revitalization of the central downtown area, he supports changing the urban-renewal district's boundaries to exclude Main Street properties between 12th and McLoughlin.
O'Donnell said that he's in agreement with Neeley's general parameters for potential realignments of the urban-renewal district.
"Closing the district needs to be addressed," O'Donnell said. "The will of the people needs to be addressed: That is No. 1."
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