Metro Council tells staff to continue researching Willamette Falls site
Metro councilors on Tuesday told staff to continue researching the possible acquisition of the Blue Heron property near Willamette Falls, saying the opportunity to acquire the site was simply too good to pass up.
The council gave staff the go-ahead to develop a bid, but would need to take a formal vote before Metro was locked into buying the property. But after a closed session, Metro sustainability center director Jim Desmond said if a bid is prepared, it would include terms and conditions that the Metro Council would have to approve.
Bids for the property, a 170-year-old industrial site that is home to a bankrupt and shuttered paper mill, are due Oct. 19. Metro has been working on partnerships with Oregon City, Clackamas County and the state to start developing a plan for maintaining the site.
Why are so many levels of government moving so quickly to get on board with the project?
"The resource here is so extraordinary," Desmond said. The site's cultural, historic and scenic resources "are nearly unparalleled since Celilo Falls disappeared," he said.
And the site is large enough to provide land for private-sector development, staff said.
"This is an anchor for the rebirth of Oregon City," said Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, whose district includes the area. When it became clear that the jobs at Blue Heron couldn't be saved, local agencies started looking at how the site could provide a spark for redevelopment of that city's regional center.
Metro staff has said that public access, habitat restoration, information on cultural history and economic redevelopment opportunities are the guiding principles for the project, envisioning a park-like setting for the 22-acre site that also includes housing, offices or a hotel.
But Collette emphasized that Clackamas County won't be looking to see another Pearl District spring up 20 miles south of Portland.
"This is uniquely suitable to Oregon City, and to Clackamas County," she said. "We want redevelopment that recognizes our heritage, that recognizes the natural environment, that recognizes local values."
Blue Heron, she said, is the best project for the area in terms of those values, and the area's "sense of loyalty" to the environment and the river.
Metro would pay for the site acquisition out of its natural areas bond money, passed by voters in 2006. It's unclear, though, how much the site will cost – Metro won't disclose how much it's willing to bid on the property. Desmond said Metro has obtained information on appraisals done on the site in the last year, but would not share how much the property was appraised for.
Ultimately, it will be the decision of a bankruptcy trustee as to who wins the bidding, and how much the winning bidder will pay.