Oregon City struggles with growth, identity
Daily Journal of Commerce
by Kennedy Smith
It’s a half-an-hour drive south through Milwaukie, Clackamas and Gladstone to reach Oregon City, by most accounts a small town. Its quaint downtown has a lazy-Sunday feel, with the occasional passer-by waving to his neighbor.
But the 163-year-old city with a population of just under 27,000 is attempting to update its sense of place with two major projects, a retail-oriented lifestyle center and a mixed-use waterfront project complete with condos, town homes, restaurants and office space.
The lifestyle center, in the hands of Bridgeport Village-maker CenterCal Properties, is on the “fast track” to being developed at the site of the former Rossman Landfill, Larry Patterson, city manager, said.
Called The Rivers at Oregon City, the lifestyle center will sit right off of Interstate 205 and include large-format retailers as well as office space and some residential units.
The second major project is a high-end residential, commercial, retail and open-spaces development on 103 acres along the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas rivers.
Pacific Property Search, the power behind Lake Oswego’s Oswego Pointe mixed-use development, has submitted pre-application documents and plans to go ahead with a waterfront development that would comprise 180 condominiums in six four-story buildings, 86 town homes, a public amphitheater, an 18-foot-wide esplanade for public use, 58,000 square feet of office space and two restaurants.
Called The Cove, the development is expected to cost between $120 million and $130 million, Ed Darrow, principal of Pacific Property Search, said. And although the development would include some of the same elements as Oswego Pointe, the developer went through more than a year of planning and 15 public meetings to ensure the development would be built with an Oregon City stamp.
“This is a new representation of where the city is headed,” he said. “Our initial position with the city was, let’s do a first concept and then meet with entities that have a stake in this. When you do projects of this size, if you don’t understand that you need to work through those bodies and incorporate their thoughts into the design, you shouldn’t be in the business.”
So far, residents have taken kindly to the proposed developments, Patterson said.
Patterson said Oregon City’s ultimate goal is to create more than $500 million worth of assessed value within the city.
“If that happens, we’d see more development that would stretch into the downtown core,” he said.
Inviting new development while keeping a sense of place is a challenge that many smaller communities surrounding Portland face, David Bragdon, president of regional government Metro, said.
“Oregon City has assets in its historic architecture,” he said. “It will help if they can preserve that as the place grows.”
But the city is taking a risk by pushing for a lifestyle retail center, he said, which “do end up looking generic after a while.”
The most important step to take, Patterson said, once the new developments take place, is to build a community – through public amenities and citywide events – around them.
Oregon City is in the process of amending its urban renewal plan, acquiring properties in and around the downtown core, as it prepares for growth, Patterson said. The city has been buying up lots peppered throughout the city that it could use as parking in the future. Oregon City’s population grows about 6.25 percent per year, he said.
The city’s current urban renewal plan has a maximum debt of $29 million, but already $17 million has been used, Patterson said. The amendments would allow Oregon City to extend its debt limits.