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Mayor addresses the state of his city

Jim Bernard highlights gains and the start of new projects

The tone was relentlessly positive at Milwaukie Mayor Jim Bernard's annual state-of-the-city address, where the focus was on recent accomplishments and development projects around the city.

In the past, Bernard said, he spent a lot of time at the annual addresses talking about things that were going to happen, or that the city wanted - now those projects are here.

'Evidence is all around us that the state of the city is strong… the city is strong and getting stronger,' he said.

Bernard cited the recent renovation of McLoughlin Boulevard through downtown as an example of the city's recent successes. He said that project was first proposed in 1991 - and although it took a long time to come about, he said he's pleased with the results.

'Originally it was just to replace the existing roadway,' he said. 'That plan wasn't enough for us… we wanted to reconnect with the waterfront.'

The end result is a plan that includes trees, lighting and new crosswalks. 'Now we have a really safe, comfortable street to walk across,' he said. 'All those old dingy buildings are gone from our waterfront - for the first time in a long time you can look out and see the Willamette River.'

Rebuilding connections

Bernard said McLoughlin Boulevard had always been a barrier, separating the city from the river. As part of the development of the 'new' McLoughlin Boulevard, the city convinced the Oregon Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit through downtown.

'McLoughlin Boulevard is very important to the city,' he said. 'But in a different way than North Main Project.'

The development of that project, he said, will be key to the area's revitalization.

'Our downtown has been dormant for a decade,' he said. Many businesses fled the area long ago. The farmer's market turned that trend around, bringing people back downtown. 'But the farmer's market is only 25 weeks out of the year.

'The North Main Village will for the first time bring people living in downtown Milwaukie… that will help support businesses in downtown. Having people in downtown will help support revitalization… and it puts watchful eyes in downtown, making sure we're safe and protected.'

The next step is a joint city-Metro project at the old Olsen Brothers property across from City Hall - but that development promises to be even more controversial, with some people in the community already raising objections to a proposed mixed-use development there.

'I believe that project is part of the momentum North Main brought to the district,' Bernard said.

He also said he's committed to the future of the farmer's market - now at the site which would be developed. 'I'm not going to let it go away.'

New steps

With the north end of Main Street becoming established as a site for new development and growth, Bernard said in July they bought the Cash Spot property at the south end of downtown, on McLoughlin.

'There's a lot of great ideas for that property,' he said. 'The city owns it, and we can make it the kind of quality project that the city wants for downtown.'

Bernard commented that people driving to the state-of-the-city address on McLoughlin might think that the rest of their waterfront plans for a park along the river have already been realized - but despite some landscaping along the highway those plans are still largely unrealized. He said 'requests for proposal' - RFPs - have been sent out to solicit proposals for a final design for the new park.

'That location is very important to our city,' Bernard said.

He also cited new developments across from Milwaukie Market Place on Oak, on King Road where a new Safeway is finally moving forward with construction and along Springwater Trail - which will soon include a dramatic pedestrian bridge across McLoughlin at the city's northern limit.

'There are incredible changes going on,' Bernard said, 'and I'm proud of the staff I work with - they're incredible people.

'I've seen the downtown decay,' he said, 'and maybe some decisions that were made have prevented the town from surviving… but we're trying to bring that back.'