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A 10th street solution?

City weighs interests in
by: Vern Uyetake, Graham Bryce is hoping he is nearing the end of five years of struggling to gain approval to refurbish and revive commercial business in the former Willamette Marketplace.

The Willamette Marketplace has another 15 minutes of fame scheduled tonight (Oct. 26) when the planning commission reviews the proposed project and considers its approval.

The project has been studied intermittently over the past five years by traffic consultants, architects, developers, attorneys, local and out-of-town businesses, and a neighborhood association. Late last month, the city accepted an application to rebuild the now idle commercial property.

Proposed is a three-story replacement for one building, remodeling two existing buildings and constructing two new buildings and a courtyard, totaling more than 72,000 square feet under roof. Also in the project is leveling, rebuilding, landscaping and lighting two parking lots.

The project's major roadblock has been congestion at the intersection of Eighth Avenue, Eighth Court and 10th Street.

The infamous 10Th Street corridor.

Nearly all close to the issue agree that the fate of that intersection can make or break the rebuilding project.

Tonight, city staff plan to propose a short-term solution that could allow the project to finally move forward: a traffic signal at 10Th Street and Willamette Falls Drive, an intersection on one side of the 10th Street Corridor.

'With signals on both sides of this unsignaled intersection,' Senior Planner Gordon Howard said, 'you'll have enough platooning of cars to provide a gap that would allow cars to make left turns pretty easily. This would buy us some time to figure out how to resolve the problem.'

Graham Bryce, owner of the Willamette Marketplace property, is not happy with the Band-Aid fix, but he said he could live with it as long as the city never puts medians on 10th Street.

Other Eighth Court business owners expressed similar feelings to city officials last week, which resulted in the removal of the median idea from staff's original recommendation.

As a result, the businesses agreed to support Bryce's project even though they, and Bryce, have concerns about the city's short-term solution to their traffic problem.

'The merchants on Eighth Court are very logical and frankly very responsive,' Bryce said. 'I was most impressed with their attitude and their willingness to solve the problem.'

Instead, the loudest objection to tonight's proposal is coming from the Oregon Department of Transportation. Its officials don't want traffic to backup on 10thTh Street, possibly blocking the Interstate 205 off-ramps.

Howard said ODOT has a strong voice in the matter, even though it has no responsibility for that portion of 10Th Street.

'ODOT is acting in their best interests,' he said, 'which is to keep the freeway off-ramps from getting backed-up. That's a legitimate interest. They don't have a veto (in the decision), but they do have a strong say in it.'

Bryce said he blames ODOT for the roadblocks that have delayed his project, and for the lack of a signal at Eighth Avenue - the ideal solution to the intersection's problems, he said.

'The reason we have this problem,' he said, 'is that the city hasn't dealt with this issue for years. Now we come in with an application, and we have a sense of timing, urgency and tenants, and now the city has changed its long-range plan. But the real reason is because ODOT thinks the lights are too close together.'

Residents of Eighth Avenue and 12Th Street north of Willamette Falls Drive also should be concerned about this situation, Bryce said.

'I don't think the neighborhood association fully understands the problems for them if we are forced to drive our traffic up on 12Th to Willamette Falls Drive,' he said. 'It really is going to push a lot of traffic through there.'

Because of this, Bryce is not optimistic his project will get off the table and onto the ground, even though the even though the wrecking ball is poised to swing and demolish the 1970 building that has not had a long-term business since Thriftway vacated it in the late 1990s.

With so much time already passed and his six-acre commercial development sitting empty and so many interests at stake, Bryce is fighting for the survival of his investment.

'I think the issue is getting the city to recognize they've got a fight on their hands if they do anything other than approve a traffic light at Eighth,' Bryce said. 'And then we have to go through the battle of who's going to pay for it.'

But politics being what it is, Bryce said this is not yet a done deal.

'It's in all of our best interests to solve this now,' he said, 'to keep the lawyers out of it, and to come up with a solution that puts a signal at the intersection that's failing.

'I think the city understands that now, but I don't know who's going to be bedfellows with whom if the city goes a different direction.'

Tonight's commission meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of city hall, 22500 Salamo Road.