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Downtown debate continues with proposed design


by: JEFF MCDONALD  - e city of Woodburn has discussed removing bulb-outs replacing  two one-way couplet streets downtown.With a consultant’s report expected to guide Woodburn City Council’s direction on downtown redevelopment scheduled for release in late October, downtown business owners reiterated their belief that street and sidewalk improvements are needed immediately.

The report, which is being prepared by Portland-based Constructive Form Architecture & Design LLC, should give council direction on what to do with the city-owned Association Building, which sits between the Downtown Plaza and Front Street.

The city has already invested $800,000 stabilizing and retrofitting the building it acquired for $1 in the early 1990s and many downtown business owners say it would be unwise to spend more money there.

“If I had my way, I would do First Street first,” said Anthony Veliz, a former city councilor who is owner of Izo Public Relations & Marketing, which represents Hispanic businesses downtown. “The city has invested a lot of money on the Association Building and we have not seen a return on investment. The Association Building cannot stop progress from being made downtown.”

The city council has been in some discussions about possible First Street improvements that could be made. The Public Works Department is developing design alternatives for the project, which include a couplet design, according to an “E-blurb” sent out to city councilors by Scott Derickson, city administrator.

“A couplet design would involve the removal of the existing bulb-outs on the east side of North Front Street with one-way traffic headed northbound,” Derickson wrote in his Sept. 6 E-blurb.

“Under this option,” Derickson’s E-Blurb continued, “angled parking would be added on the west side of North Front Street along the frontage of the existing commercial businesses.”

Veliz, along with other business owners, agreed that street and sidewalk improvements are needed to stimulate investment in downtown.

“What is the vision?” Veliz said. “I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around that. If I understood the vision, I would understand the pieces a little bit better. It needs to be communicated better by the city.”

City leaders have defined the Association Building as their top priority in terms of how to spend an estimated $5 million remaining in the city’s urban renewal fund.

The fund uses tax increment financing to finance redevelopment projects throughout the downtown district. The district, which is based on property values, has grown at a much slower rate than expected, mainly due to the economic recession.

The first project will likely be a renegotiation of the Woodburn Fire District station remodel. The city and the district are renegotiating the amount that will be paid toward the remodel, said Mayor Kathy Figley.

“We want to get through the fire hall discussion,” Figley said. “We’re still getting feedback on the Association Building. We want to have a global discussion of how much money we’re working with.”

Discussions about downtown couplets would need to happen in concert with any First Street project under consideration because the city would likely use a single contractor for the project, Figley said.

“If we’re serious about the couplet, this would be the decision point for saying so,” she said. “It’s something where I think looking at how things are configured on First and whether to bother with bump-outs and landscaping.”

The bump-outs, which were part of the redesign of Front Street, have been the subject of controversy downtown since they were installed in January 2010.

Originally designed for their aesthetic appeal and as devices for slowing down traffic, business owners have complained about the challenges they create for trucks making turns off Front Street.

While some businesses have planted flowers and other landscaping, other bump-outs have accumulated trash and weeds.

Replacing the bump-outs could improve the parking situation downtown and allow for easier deliveries downtown, Figley said.

Bruce Thomas, owner of Yes Graphics downtown, said he was surprised to learn about discussions of a couplet.

“But, on reflection, I think it’s worthwhile to put these proposals out,” Thomas said. “Everybody knows my preference is that First Street is done and done well and then let private businesses take advantage of it. Without it being there, a private business will not see the potential of downtown. The infrastructure is the big piece.”

Thomas, who said he filled out a 10-page questionnaire giving his thoughts on what the city should do with the Association Building, is keen to see the results of the consultant’s report on the building. He has been an outspoken critic of the city spending any more money on the building.

“From what I understand, these consultants have vast experience to do exactly what we’re looking for – to turn a building around in a small community,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to pass judgment on these guys before they do anything.”