Foothills district: Big investment, bigger return

Study finds Foothills redevelopment would generate huge payback
by: SUBMITTED ARTIST RENDERING A large staircase called the Willamette Steps would link streetcar park-and-ride garages and other new development in Foothills to downtown. There would also be a public elevator at this streetcar stop, consultants say.

Redeveloping the largely industrial Foothills area could generate millions of dollars to support long-term public services and the overall economy, but it will require the city to front as much as $8.5 million to get the ball rolling.

That's according to the draft executive summary of a financial feasibility study of the project, which aims to revitalize the 107-acre area between State Street and the Willamette River with a mix of new housing, transit options and commercial and office space.

'Long-term, it's a financially sound plan,' said Brant Williams, the city's director of economic and capital development. 'The biggest challenge is coming up with money in the short term to do the improvements that allow private development to occur.'

The city would need to fork out $8.5 million to pay for infrastructure projects that would facilitate the first six blocks of development, Williams said. That includes relocating sewer lines, improving roads and creating new pedestrian facilities and public amenities.

After that, a new urban renewal district in the northern part of Foothills would be able to generate enough money to fund public projects and to repay the initial public outlay, which could come from loans or grants, according to the feasibility study.

Aside from the initial costs, the city overall would spend an estimated $56.1 million - in today's dollars - on the redevelopment effort, with the money coming from tax-increment financing and system development charges.

The potential payback, however, is huge. Officials believe private development would generate 33 times the amount the city puts in, with investors spending as much as $1.6 billion in the district over the next two or three decades.

'We're confident it's a financially viable plan in the long term, and taxpayers in Lake Oswego would not have to support it,' Williams said.

According to the study, the city would face minimal risk so long as agreements are made to link the timing of public investments to private development and associated revenue.

'We would not move forward with public improvements if we did not have the commitments for those developments to go in,' Williams explained.

The financial feasibility study, prepared by ECONorthwest, looked at a framework development plan crafted by Williams, Dame and White, a Portland firm hired by the city and local property owners to examine how Foothills, an area plagued with development challenges, could become a vibrant urban neighborhood.

The framework plan addresses infrastructure, floodplain and traffic problems, among other issues, associated with building in the district.

The framework

The plan recommends creating three sub-areas within Foothills: The 'North District,' covering the existing industrial area and near the Tryon Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant; the 'Upper Shelf,' level with State Street and south of the Oswego Pointe condominiums; and the 'Garden District,' south of the condominiums and including most of the Oswego Pointe apartments area as well. The northern section would appear more urban, while the garden area would feature a more garden-like and brownstone setting.

A new intersection at State Street and Terwilliger Boulevard, a pedestrian connection at B Street, high-quality pedestrian streetscapes and better access to parks and public spaces are all features of the envisioned 'middle rise' community, according to the plan.

Buildings could stand as high as 90 feet, or about seven stories; however, they might not appear so tall. Planners noted there is a natural elevation change in the area, and so in many places a 90-foot-tall building would appear to be just three or four stories from State Street.

To compensate for the fill that would be placed within the northern part of the district, consultants recommend completing a restoration project along Tryon Creek. Another suggestion is to create a fee program allowing applicants to pay into a mitigation bank to fund floodplain restoration work.

A proposed streetcar would run along a rebuilt Foothills Road, ending at a transit center on the east side of State Street, across from Millennium Plaza Park.

Park-and-ride lots would sit at a transit stop two blocks north of the streetcar line's terminus in new buildings straddling B Avenue, which would extend across State Street and into the district, linking Foothills to downtown. A large staircase would act as a 'vertical park' to this streetcar stop. Pathways would also be built between area parks and plazas.

Sustainability goals of the plan call for new development to meet high environmental standards. The plan also recommends using 'Salmon Safe' guidelines for site development, and including bicycle parking and shower facilities, wastewater diversion, on-site food production and dark-sky requirements.

Energy could be produced by taking heated water discharged from Portland's Tryon Creek wastewater plant and channeling it through a loop within the district to help with building heating and cooling needs while reducing the amount of warm water sent from the plant into the Willamette River.

The Foothills district could also reuse treated water coming from the plant. Reclaimed water would be funneled through a 'purple pipe' to Foothills, where it could be used for irrigation and in toilets, according to the plan.

But the plan hinges on the creation of a streetcar line along the Willamette River from Portland.

Designers have said without a streetcar line, they would need to reassess many aspects of the project. Foregoing a streetcar would also threaten anticipated federal funds necessary to rebuild Foothills Road.

Consultants and public officials are still sorting out the details of the streetcar proposal and expect to release more information early next year.

What's next?

The draft Foothills framework plan is available through

Public comment will be accepted through the end of October at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The city council is tentatively scheduled to consider adopting the framework plan at a mid-December meeting. If the plan is approved, Williams, Dame and White would develop and deliver a package of regulatory amendments needed to implement key recommendations.

The ECONorthwest study will be finished and released as a full report within the next couple of weeks, according to the city.