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City acknowledges potential risks of its plan to redevelop commercial district

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Despite risks, Town Center business owners are mostly optimistic about the City of Wilsonville's plan to redevelop the commercial area.

During the process of formulating the Town Center Plan — a blueprint for fostering redevelopment in the Town Center commercial district — many residents asked for more boutique shops and enticing restaurants and a rethinking of the current parking lot-dominated landscape in favor of walkable paths and greenery.

Though the fate of some of these features will come down to the decisions of developers and landowners, City officials have stated that all are key aspects of the overall vision.

But what could such sweeping changes mean for existing businesses?

In some similar projects, they can lead to higher tenant costs and even business displacement, but most Town Center business owners and representatives told the Spokesman they were excited about — rather than petrified by — the plan.

"I believe it's important that a city plan for the future, otherwise when redevelopment occurs you just get what the market will bear, and typically that does not bring a sense of place and the civic engagement that is important for a healthy Town Center," said Susan Myers, the general manager of Capital Realty.

The plan calls for the development of mixed-use buildings — office, retail and small shops — along a new "main street," which would require extending Park Place from Courtside Drive to Wilsonville Road, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, the addition of green spaces and the loosening of parking requirements, among many other changes. The City approved the Town Center Plan in early May.

Some business owners are excited about the addition of a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over I-5 and into Town Center, as well as improved walking and biking facilities. They believe such changes could lead to a more bustling environment.

"I think it (the plan's implementation) would be really good for this area and Wilsonville in general," said Corner Coffee Shoppe owner Nancy Faubel. "It (the bridge) would make it easier for people in Villebois to come over. They ride their bikes a lot and walk a lot, and if they could conveniently get over here, it would make it busier here."

Rosiland Hursh, the owner of Eye to Eye Clinic in Town Center, also said that the dense housing outlined in the plan could lead to an influx of customers.

"At 6:30 (p.m.), it becomes a no man's land; there's no one walking around, no cars there. I think it will bring a lot more foot traffic to the area and bring merchants to the area," she said.

Accelerating costs?

None of the owners the Spokesman talked to seemed worried that the plan would threaten their business, but some mentioned potential risks.

As is a common cycle, public investment in an area can lead the private sector to redevelop land and raise rental prices. Wilsonville Diamond owner Bruce Eicher surmised that rent eventually could double in Town Center.

"Right now in this shopping center, we have below-average retail space in terms of cost per foot and the feasibility of building brand-new buildings. ... They are going to have to raise the rent and that could change some of the shops' outlook," he said.

Also, in the plan, the City outlined ways to incentivize improvements that could fall on the backs of business owners. It could establish a business improvement district, where business and property owners would be assessed a fee that would go to beautification, marketing or other initiatives or where property owners would pay a fee for the development of infrastructure.

Hursh hoped the costs for potential store frontage and other improvements would be spread across the city rather than simply assessed to businesses.

"It shouldn't be on the backs of merchants in Town Center, but the people who live here, too," she said.

Hursh also was worried that larger businesses that can afford to brave higher costs or own their own property would replace "mom and pop" shops.

"I think that's the challenge," she said. "Hopefully, they'll be able to thread that needle of keeping mom and pop stores without it being taken over by bigger corporations with bigger pockets."

Kyle Bunch, the owner of Wilsonville's American Family Insurance, thought that even though the plan might lead to some local shops located near the future "main street" being priced out, Town Center would still have affordable options for small businesses on the periphery.

"People may not be able to stay in the same spot as it redevelops, and they might not want to," Bunch said. "Part of that (business relocation and retention), the City can facilitate, and they don't have complete control of that either. It's up to property owners to develop what they want within the (City's) framework."

Making change work

In a Wilsonville City Council meeting Monday, April 15, Councilor Charlotte Lehan said that most of the businesses in Town Center do not own their own land and felt that eclectic restaurants in the Shenandoah Square might be especially vulnerable to change. She mentioned the remodel of Lloyd Center in Portland as a cautionary tale.

"They lost almost everyone when Lloyd Center did their remodel. That was a demonstration of what can happen if you don't pay attention to ... not only landowners, but also the tenants of those buildings," she said at the meeting.

Rene'e James, who owns Boones Landing Physical Therapy, thought the potentially elevated popularity of the Town Center could make up for cost increases. She also said that maintaining communication between the City and the business community throughout redevelopment will be key.

"If you are increasing the concept of transportation coming through, there's more visibility, more access, more places to eat, more walkable roads, then you have more population coming to the area," she said. "So it does increase the tenants' leases, I think, but that may be offset by the traffic that would come through."

Though some said that redevelopment could force existing businesses to close or move, Myers noted that the residual effects from the plan, which is projected to take over 20 years to be fully realized, might not occur for a long time.

"For us, it's so far in the future that as long as there's no redevelopment significant, then we won't be impacted," Myers said. "Existing businesses shouldn't be impacted."

Mitigation measures

Wilsonville Planning Director Miranda Bateschell identified the Alberta Arts District in Portland and areas of Brooklyn, New York, as areas that priced out existing businesses through redevelopment.

"It's definitely a situation that can happen and that's why we attempted in this plan to outline a number of tools to try to offset or mitigate some of the impacts of that happening," she said.

The plan mentioned the use of the Oregon Main Street program, which tries to revitalize older historic and commercial districts while also preserving neighborhood character.

"Organizations and programs such as these (the Main Street Program and BID) can also help businesses in the Town Center with programming and marketing," the plan reads.

The plan also states that the Main Street Program could address business retention and relocation and mentioned the possibility of replicating Prosper Portland's Affordable Commercial Tenanting Program, which has helped provide more affordable commercial spaces for businesses in the Lents neighborhood.

"This program has been 20 years in the making and required Prosper Portland to create an urban renewal district, purchase property, fund and build buildings, and invest significant resources. Wilsonville may take similar actions and invest its resources to get a similar product to Lents," the Town Center Plan reads.

Bateschell said these ideas haven't been fleshed out yet and that the City will seek advice from Town Center business owners before determining steps to help them.

"We need businesses that think they might be impacted to help us," Bateschell said. "If there are support programs, how would they offer the support that they need?"

The myriad street construction and improvements also could cause grief for some businesses. For instance, Randy Dunn, the son of the trust that owns the Shari's Cafe and Pies property in Town Center, is worried that the section of Park Place near Shari's turning into an exclusively bike and pedestrian street could hinder access to the business.

"We're concerned that the restaurant property the trust owns needs exposure and access in order to do its best," Dunn said. "The plan when and if it's fully implemented would have a substantial impact on that."

Lehan said during the meeting that the timing of the road improvements will be important.

At the meeting, Lehan and Mayor Tim Knapp felt that the City should continue to move forward with its vision but to also consider local business impacts as redevelopment materializes.

"It is certainly my intent that our existing businesses continue to have a pathway to success," Knapp said. "Part of the intent and long run is to give them a better chance of success than what they've got today under the old model."

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