Council weighs in on proposals for underutilized properties
When West Linn's Underutilized Properties Task Force first convened last year, it was asked to evaluate possibilities for five city-owned parcels not in use.
Yet over time that list narrowed to two, as the City opted to maintain status quo with some while another was designated by the City Council as West Linn's first "pocket park." Task force member attendance dwindled as well, but the group was still able to garner proposals for the two remaining properties — the old City Hall and old Bolton Fire Station — and conduct votes on how to move forward.
At long last, those recommendations and findings were presented to the City Council during a work session May 1.
"All of these properties have these weird constraints," Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester said. "I think that in some cases (applicants) were fine with them, (saying), 'We should be able to work around it,' and others said, 'I'm not bothering.'"
After reviewing the information, the council opted to follow Worcester's suggestion to declare the task force's work complete and move forward with further evaluation at the staff and council level.
What appeared before the council that night dated back to December 2016, when the City and the task force issued a Request for Information/Proposals (RIFP) on the old City Hall (which more recently housed the West Linn Police Department) and the old Bolton Fire Station. Ultimately, West Linn staff received two proposals for the old City Hall and one for the fire hall.
Clackamas County Tourism & Cultural Affairs (CCTCA) submitted its proposal to West Linn staff March 1, suggesting that the old City Hall building could be repurposed as a new home for CCTCA and three other local nonprofits.
While the proposal did not include a formal cost estimate for the project, CCTCA Executive Director Danielle Cowan stated at the work session that "it's in the several hundred thousand range." CCTCA would lease the building from West Linn and also work with the City on a parking plan.
"They didn't necessarily need a lot of City (financial) support," Worcester said. "But they did suggest that they might need some help with tenant improvements or even help with the City's contracting authority to try and get tenant improvements done."
The task force voted 5-1 in favor of the proposal, according to Worcester. Mayor Russ Axelrod said he was excited about CCTCA's proposal, particularly when viewed in the broader context of West Linn's planning for waterfront redevelopment.
"This is a building I feel we're very interested in keeping," he said. "To have county tourism anchored there could be really strategic for us. And it doesn't preclude us from doing lots of other things with the property down there."
City Councilor Rich Sakelik suggested that the council might want to keep its options open for future uses at the building, and wondered if CCTCA could use it on a temporary basis without a long-term commitment.
Cowan said that was not in the cards.
"We are not looking for a temporary home," she said. "It's too much investment and too much of a branding strategy for us as well."
The second proposal for the old City Hall came from the West Linn Paper Company, which operates on a property adjacent to the building. The company said it was interested in buying the building and leasing it to CCTCA.
"We're trying to solve a problem with a building that we see is deteriorating and costing the City money to try to work with," West Linn Paper Chief Operating Officer Brian Konen said to the council.
The task force voted 6-1 against the idea, and the City Council was also less than enthused.
"I would not be on board with selling the old City Hall," City Council President Brenda Perry said. "I think it will be a valuable part of our waterfront project, and I'd like to see us retain it if possible."
The single proposal for the old Bolton Fire Station came from a group of residents. The Bolton Neighborhood Association's submittal called for a "community resource center" at the station which could house the West Linn Food Pantry and the West Linn Community Preschool — both in need of new homes — while also accommodating other meetings or classes.
Both the food pantry and the preschool have indicated that they would pay rent to use the site, according to Bolton representatives. It is also expected that a number of other groups would use the site, including Boy and Girl Scouts as well as yoga and art classes.
The task force voted 3-2 in favor of the idea, with one voter abstaining. The council, for its part, was generally open to the concept but expressed concerns about cost. The City has estimated that the proposal would require about $1 million in capital spending for building and site renovations, and the neighborhood association's proposed operating budget showed a projected $30,000 annual deficit.
"If it stays in the negative, who is going to pay for it, and is it going to be an albatross on the city's back for many years, even though it provides a service for the community?" Sakelik said. "I wholeheartedly believe in trying to do stuff for the community, but it's got to make financial sense."
Bob Kirkendall, one of the residents who worked closely on the proposal, said that — were the proposal to be approved — volunteers would start a nonprofit organization right away and seek funds through grants and potentially even an endowment fund. He added that rent charges would also help with financing.
"I think the Bolton fire house presents something to really take a look at," Axelrod said. "The money concerns me right now, and when I look ahead, we have the Robinwood Station that we have to put a little effort into, and I sort of feel like they're one step ahead of (Bolton) in the lineup."
He added that a public-private partnership of some sort might help bolster the operating budget for the proposed community center.
"I've had one business approach me and say they're interested, for example, in putting a brewery (at the old fire station)," Axelrod said.
Further council discussion will take place after staff has taken time to answer questions and work with the groups behind the proposals.
"We can bring those back to the council at whatever point in time they're ready for further discussion," City Manager Eileen Stein said.