A 23-acre industrial site in Oregon City’s downtown along the Willamette River represents Oregonians’ best chance to rediscover a cultural and scenic treasure: Willamette Falls. With a dynamic location and remarkable history, this former paper mill site could someday serve as an economic engine, a waterfront destination, a unique habitat, a window into Oregon’s past – and a bold step into our future. The City of Oregon City, Metro, Clackamas County and the State of Oregon have deemed the site to be a “legacy opportunity” due to the extraordinary opportunity to transform not only downtown Oregon City but this entire part of the metropolitan Portland region.
With support from state agencies, Metro and Oregon City evaluated the site and conducted extensive investigations during the past two years to assess opportunities and risks. Results of environmental investigations are promising; they indicate that conditions are manageable, and aren’t as significant as feared. The public collaboration also gained a clearer understanding of the possibilities for reusing historical structures and the significant costs necessary to stabilize the site.
At this point, the public partners do not have the resources needed to purchase, redevelop and operate the entire site. However, the partnership remains committed to being a catalyst for its transformation, working toward four core values: economic redevelopment, public access, cultural interpretation and habitat restoration.
A secured $5 million investment from the State of Oregon, along with local funding, will be used to demolish buildings that lack the potential for adaptive reuse, prepare the site for development and make it ready for significant private investment. This investment by the State would also build on the Project’s firm foundation of financial and political support from Metro, Oregon City and Clackamas County.
Oregon’s Regional Solutions Office has identified the Project as a high priority for the Portland metropolitan region. Oregon State Parks, the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Department of Transportation have been instrumental in charting the course for investigations and laying the foundation for current efforts.
Metro has been involved with the site since the bankruptcy, and has already invested more than $500,000 to support due diligence efforts. As the leader of the new Master Planning and public visioning process, Oregon City has entered into a collaborative planning agreement with the Trustee. Clackamas County’s economic development and tourism staff participate in weekly team meetings and provide technical guidance and advice. Collectively, local governments are committing $500,000 for the planning effort. The owner, a Trustee in bankruptcy, is contributing $50,000.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to work with Project sponsors to develop a funding proposal to complement state and local efforts. U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader has stated that identifying federal funds for the Project is a “high priority.” Partners are committed to aggressively leveraging all available resources with additional public, private and perhaps philanthropic funds.
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