We are entering a critical time in the development of downtown Lake Oswego. With foresight, our city planners and leaders held steadfast to a vision for a dynamic downtown through many ups and downs. Those that were here during those years, remember some rather dismal proposals by developers for a strip mall at the corner of State and A.
As a Lake Oswego resident and architect, I participated in the early citywide visioning workshops that established the planning criteria for what has now become a model for civic redevelopment.
We are now at a new juncture in our city planning. We are being asked by the council to authorize the purchase of a $20 million West End Building. Ironically, this time there has been no planning and no vision for this facility developed by the community, but rather we are given only a laundry list of potential uses. Unfortunately, this list includes the potential relocation of the city hall and library that, I believe, would do a major disservice to all of the work that has gone into the redevelopment of our downtown.
In my years of practicing architecture and designing communities, it has become clear to me that what defines a 'place' is so much more than the buildings we build. The identity of Lake Oswego comes from the people and activities that inhabit our community. Through centuries of community development around the world, the locations of the town hall and the library have signified the center of a community. Finding these key civic places is how we all know where we are in a town or city. To move these is to make a decision to move the 'city.' Such a decision should not be made lightly.
It appears that, in fact, the initial motivating factor for purchasing the WEB building is one of securing what was determined to be a 'vital' purchase of real estate (land, not building) during a time of rapid growth and development. It was also very clear at the time that this purchase was made predominately for the purposes of developing the site for a community recreation center. The cost of the community center skyrocketed during the community planning process, ironically made even more unattainable by the very high cost of the property on which it was to stand. (Note: all of Portland's new community recreation centers are sited on park land already publicly owned). So far as an asset, the WEB building is not making sense. Its high initial cost was based on a location adjacent to some of the most highly valued office development in the region making it a difficult starting point for any civic project.
We are now being asked to back into the purchase of a property and structure with no clear use. Before we jump in with both feet and no idea how deep the hole is or what is at the bottom, I believe the council should withdraw the ballot measure and initiate a six to nine month community planning process to define our civic space and function needs. Do we need a larger library - if yes, then where should it be? The same visioning that created our beautiful new downtown, could likewise build upon what we have started. What about a library above retail on the Wizer block overlooking Millennium Plaza Park - think about what $20 million would do for a city project like that! Or maybe a library could anchor an extension of our city through the Foothills redevelopment with a beautiful view of the Willamette and Foothills Park. With vision, the possibilities are endless. Without it, one might just get backed into a corner. Let's proactively plan now for our future before we commit to a new course.
Alec Holser is a resident of Lake Oswego.