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Wizer block poised for transformation

Developers are hoping for $5 million public investment from the city


by: VERN UYETAKE - Eyed for redevelopment for years, the block where Wizer's has been located for decades is now poised for a transformation into apartments and retail spaces.After more than a decade in the doldrums, redevelopment of Lake Oswego’s Block 137, owned by Gene Wizer, appears to finally be moving ahead.

Developers and city staff presented a plan to the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday that would transform the whole downtown block into a development with 242 “upper-end” apartments, retail spaces on the street level and underground parking along with a courtyard and a public walkway. The block, between First and Second streets, Evergreen Road and A Avenue, has long been eyed for such a project, but redevelopment has taken place around the property rather than on it over the years.

The Wizer block is now sandwiched between Millennium Plaza Park, a commercial building housing the Italian restaurant Tucci and other businesses, and a few dozen three-level townhomes.

“This is a project that’s been a high priority for the LORA board and the redevelopment agency for years,” said Brant Williams, the city's director of economic development, on Tuesday at city hall. The LORA board is made up of city council members.

Patrick Kessi of W&K Development said Monday that his firm had reached an agreement with Gene Wizer late last year, although discussions between the parties began as long as six or seven years ago. Now, if all goes according to plan, W&K will buy the property in the heart of downtown where Wizer’s grocery store has served residents for more than 50 years.

City meeting records confirm Wizer has been in contact with numerous developers over the past decade, but a redevelopment project never came to fruition on his block.

“Gene is very cautious,” Kessi said, “and a really good man. He cares about the community tremendously. He didn’t want to just let a developer have all of the control.”

But Kessi said the project won’t pencil out without some support from the city’s redevelopment agency.

Developers are hoping the urban renewal agency will essentially cover or waive the city’s usual fees associated with new developments along with fees for permits, and contribute $750,000 to the project. In all, that amounts to an estimated $5 million public investment, he said.

Using money generated from growth in the district’s property tax revenues, the agency has funded public amenities such as Millennium Plaza Park and facilitated private investment in projects like apartments where a cement plant used to sit and Lake View Village. In some cases the agency directly funds improvements to infrastructure like parks, while in other cases it helps facilitate projects, such as acquiring properties to sell for a large private development.

The idea is to stimulate additional development and economic activity, expanding the city’s tax base.

“Public participation is needed so we can make this development a reality,” Kessi said, noting the project would provide many more dollars in property tax revenues and would generate construction excise money for public schools.

The Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency can take on about $50 million more in projects in the district, according to a 2011-12 annual report. Redevelopment of Block 137 and a possible hotel is projected to cost LORA $6 million, according to the report.

Developers will likely come back to the LORA board to discuss a proposed public-private partnership. Their final design would be subject to consideration by the city’s design review commission and would have to comply with city codes, although exemptions could be granted. In the case of the Wizer block, developers would need an exception for being five stories tall — city code limits height to four stories in the area. Still, even with five stories the building would fit the city’s height limit of 60 feet downtown.

It would also need an exemption to allow residential entries at street level downtown.

Watch for more details as this story continues at lakeoswegoreview.com and in next week’s edition of the Review.



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