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Milwaukie turns attention toward south end

A public square, and future home for the farmers market, is the centerpiece of plan
by: courtesy of City of Milwaukie, A preliminary plan for Milwaukie's south downtown area.

With the north end of downtown Milwaukie anchored with new development, and with similar developments spreading south - by way of the proposed Town Center site across from City Hall, an upcoming facelift of the old State Bank building at Main and Monroe streets and a Portland restaurant, Cha Cha Cha, coming to town - Community Development Director Kenny Asher is starting to look to the other end of town and envisioning what it might look like.

'I think focusing on this end is kind of lighting the other side of the candle,' planning commission Chair Jeff Klein said as Asher presented a concept plan for south downtown to the commission last week.

The main feature of Asher's proposed plan is an open town square - a plaza where he envisions future farmers markets to take place - at the end of Main Street where it curves up into Lake Road. It's a potential site for a light rail stop and is across the street from Kellogg Creek, which he said makes it ideal.

'I think that this marriage of the urbanity of downtown Milwaukie adjacent to this park - to have an urban space that is so close to hiking trails and biking trails … is one thing Milwaukie has going for it,' he said.

Asher said he decided to look into a south downtown plan after he and JoAnn Herrigel, the community services director, started discussing all the different elements coming together in the area. The city had bought the Cash Spot site, received money to restore Kellogg Creek, seen a lot of interest in Robert Kronberg Park and was discussing light rail coming through downtown.

'JoAnn and I kind of came to the conclusion that holding eight different discussions about this' wouldn't serve the city as well as one central focus, he said. 'With enough of a push from council I engaged an urban design specialist here in town.'

Aside from the draw of a new farmers market site, improving the public spaces in this part of town is crucial to attracting development and investment, said Asher.

'You don't just do the private space, you do all the public space around it so you've got activity and everything,' he said.

But neither of the two could exist alone.

'The design of this square is important, but far more important is the context you put that square into,' he said. 'Pioneer Place is successful because you've got people.'

The plan doesn't stop with downtown, though. A grant to remove the dam blocking what is now Kellogg Lake will reduce the water and restore the former Kellogg Creek. With the opened-up space, Asher sees developing it into a larger park with walking trails on either side of the creek and a potential pedestrian underpass to the riverfront.

'You could restore the creek to its more native state, and although you couldn't have these paths 12 months a year … you could have them many months a year,' Asher said.

The next step, Asher said, is to explore the validity of the project and to look at whether people want it or not. Although he hasn't started the latter process fully yet, he is asking for comments on the concept through the city's Web site, at www.cityofmilwaukie.org.

And while the sketches may look as good as any other ideas for downtown, Asher said it's not a plan, it's a concept to get people talking.

'This is a conversation starter - the kinds of ideas that are in here - nobody really dislikes open space, so nobody's really had negative reactions to it,' he said, '[but] it needs to be validated.'