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Community rec center, downtown revitalization top prioities at citys Annual Town Meeting Saturday

Greg Orlowskys suggestion that Forest Grove needs better outreach to young people was immediately seconded by two other people in his group, who liked the idea of an indoor recreation center.In the beginning, sustainability, retail development and economic growth were rated the top three areas needing attention in Forest Grove, according to the roughly 75 people who gathered in the community auditorium Saturday for the city’s Annual Town Meeting.

Schools and transportation followed closely behind as the crowd registered opinions through a clicker-system instant poll at the start of the meeting.

Three hours later, a community recreation center had joined those priorities.

City Manager Michael Sykes noted that the city council’s annual goal-setting session is March 1 and “a number of issues raised here will be included.”

The meeting’s demographics didn’t necessarily match the city’s. Sixty-three percent of the people registering opinions were over 55, with just four people younger than 21, three people aged 21 to 25 and five people aged 26 to 35.

Most — 38 percent — had lived in Forest Grove more than 20 years, although 23 percent were newbies, with five years or fewer under their belts.

One of the main issues to surface was the feeling that the city needed something to attract youth to healthy activities downtown, such as a community center that could offer sports, YMCA programs and other classes or events.

Pacific University professor Phil Ruder came back from a visit to Wisconsin convinced that Forest Grove needs a YMCA center like the one he saw in Appleton.

“You can drop your 6-year-old off and from 10 to 5 they’re engaged,” he said, noting that the facility’s central location drew the whole community together.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - John White, who helped lead a 2007 update to the citys Vision Statement, described how it was shaped, in part, by an annual town meeting and a crew of 46 vision volunteers who attended numerous meetings and working groups, then finished with a small writing team that prepared an action plan for city council approval.

“They actually have five YMCA centers in that town (population 73,000) and they’re all hopping,” he said.

Abraham Villasenor, who attends Portland Community College, had the same idea for a community recreation center — maybe with a climbing wall. Currently, Forest Grove’s young people go outside the city to do their shopping and for entertainment, he said.

The community recreation/YMCA center idea didn’t just permeate conversations all over the room during an hour of small-group discussion — it took the top spot in a poll question about “What should be the most important new facility in Forest Grove?” with 56 percent of the vote. A civic center/performing arts facility was a distant second with 22 percent.

During the breakout discussions, conversations varied widely.

“How much affordable housing do we need?” one man rhetorically asked his tablemates. “What’s wrong with high-end housing?”

“The quality of life is going down,” said a woman one table over.

“People don’t know about GroveLink,” said a young man on the other side of the room, referring to the city’s local transit service.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: JOHN SCHRAG - Michael Henderson, a Pacific student majoring in environmental studies, was one of the few young people at Saturdays Annual Town Meeting. Henderson liked the discussion groups and thought it would be good to improve the connections between the city and Pacific students.But some themes persisted.

“I don’t shop here. I don’t like the atmosphere,” said a young woman, who prefers stores in the Pearl District.

A number of people feel the need for improved retail offerings in the city and an instant poll at the meeting backed that up with 54 percent saying they shop “mostly elsewhere” and 34 percent saying they spend “about half” their shopping time in Forest Grove. Only 12 percent shopped mostly in the city.

The Pearl District shopper also said she opts for New Seasons over Safeway, where “I’m harassed for money” in the parking lot.

But she was one of only a few talking about public safety, which scored near the bottom of the “most important issues” question, garnering only 5 percent of the vote — and only 3 percent in another “most important” poll.

Before the small-group discussions, revitalizing downtown, creating jobs and making the community more inclusive were rated as the top three objectives city officials should pursue.

Afterward, revitalizing downtown remained at the top with 23 percent of the vote, but a community center came in second with 19 percent of the vote and “youth opportunities” third with 14 percent. Taken together, those last two items (which overlap considerably) came in first with 33 percent of the group’s endorsement.

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