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Woodburn purchased a piece of idle First Street property, a site that could become the city's first 'pocket park.'

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - The boarded up space at 333 First Street has been idle and vacant since a fire gutted it 30 years ago. We're all familiar with the pocket knife: a handy accessory that serves multiple functions and conveniently slides in and out of a compact space for quick use when the occasion arises.

How about a pocket park?

Though it may seem like a stretch, a nifty pocket-knife parallel with an urban-renewal twist just might be the "pocket park." Moreover, something like that may be coming to downtown Woodburn soon.

As Woodburn's First Street Improvement project plows north with momentum, a piece of long-blighted property within its wake may get an impromptu makeover on the side, a sprucing up that would coincide with the overall First Street project.COURTESY OF MARK KRONQUIST - Stayton created a parklet downtown by using one parking space that borders the sidewalk were it crosses a millrace. Woodburn is exploring the possiblity of putting in a similar pocket park on First Street.

City of Woodburn recently purchased the stagnant, boarded property located at 333 First Street, barely a half block north of the city library, and city staff are examining future plans for the site – including thoughts of installing a mini-park area.

Woodburn Urban Renewal Agency recommended the purchase of the property from Val Sobolev and George Z. Kalashnidoff during the agency's April 8 meeting. The purchase price was $40,000 ($41k with closing costs).

The URA report noted that the building on the site burned down 30 years ago. Plans to rebuild and operate a commercial business on the site never developed for a variety of reasons. The current plywood fronting was erected more than 5 years ago at the city's behest.

The boarded structure has been an eyesore and a code-enforcement headache as it attracted graffiti, transient activity and elicited many calls and letters of complaints to the city.

The URA report presented by Economic Development Director Jamie Johnk and Assistant City Attorney McKenzie Granum noted:

"For the past few years, city staff has been working diligently with the property owner to encourage development or sale; however, the property owner had an unrealistic value for the property considering its condition.

"With the First Street project getting underway, City Administrator (Scott Derickson) authorized staff to discuss the possibility of the City buying the property for use as a public space for a period of time. After a great deal of discussion, Ms. Sobolev agreed to sell the property to the City for the Marion County RMV Assessment for the land at $40,000."

That transaction was anticipated to be finalized on Wednesday, April 24. The next step is the figure out what to do with it?

"I know that Jamie has been looking at a lot of pocket-park kind of concepts," City Administrator Scott Derickson told the Woodburn City Council on April 22. "There are some really cool things out there that community have done that would be really neat to have."

According to an Oregon Parks and Recreation Department publication, "Community Park and Recreation Planning," pocket parks generally range from 1/4 to 2 acres and provide limited amenities, such as a picnic table, bench or possibly play equipment. They do not provide off-street parking.

Portland and other Oregon communities have similar public spaces; in recent years Stayton assembled a "parklet" downtown by converting a parking space set over a millrace, furnishing it with places to sit and even reading materials during favorable weather; Molalla actually named its green space of this ilk "Pocket Park," and describes it as "a reprieve of green space within a popular commercial district."

In Woodburn the concept appears to be in keeping with current trends and developments.

"As you come down Front Street, you really begin to see a lot of pride downtown," said Woodburn City Councilor Lisa Ellsworth, who also sits on the Downtown Advisory Review Subcommittee.

Ellsworth described business décor, ice cream shops opening up and the upcoming music in the park series as among features elevating Woodburn's downtown.

"We are picking up some pieces of property that are going to make our downtown safer, our community safer and really provide a couple of amenities that we've needed," she said. "I'm looking forward to the pocket park, but also the parking lot that is going downtown."

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