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Developers pull out of Troutdale project

Companies cite concerns over funding and compatibility with city planners as issues

The withdrawal last week of two potential developers is sending Troutdale officials back to the drawing board regarding an urban renewal project along the Sandy River.

Citing concerns including funding viability and compatibility with city planners, both CenterCal Properties of Tualatin and Williams and Dame Development of Portland pulled out of active consideration to develop the former sewage plant site behind Columbia Gorge Premium Outlets.

CenterCal Properties, which a citizen advisory committee recently recommended to develop the former sewage plant site, notified the city Thursday, April 17, that it was withdrawing from the project. Two days earlier, Williams and Dame Development said it no longer wanted to be considered for developing the site into a mixed commercial-residential-recreational complex.

Representatives from both companies were scheduled to address the Troutdale Urban Renewal Agency at its meeting Tuesday, April 22. Instead, the committee, comprised of City Council members, planned to discuss how to pick up the pieces and move ahead with the project.

City Administrator John Anderson said the news comes as a surprise.

'It's a setback and a disappointment,' he said. 'We'll have to evaluate our options and decide how to go forward.'

A letter to the city from Williams and Dame provided little elaboration as to why the company withdrew, but Abe Farkas of ECONorthwest learned officials were concerned, given the state of the economy, about the viability of equity and debt financing while working on numerous projects at once. Also, Farkas said, 'they feel the city wants a retail attractor as part of the development scenario, and they don't believe that's viable from them at this time.'

Fred Bruning of CenterCal had indicated a large 'box' store, such as outdoor retailers Cabela's or Bass Pro, would anchor his company's plans for the urban renewal site. However, he became increasingly concerned that the city's village-oriented vision, with an emphasis on multi-level residential housing and small shops, might not mesh with a large chain retail complex.

'Our alternate view of the site was meeting some resistance,' Bruning said. 'We didn't want the city to lose their vision. All I want is the right solution for the community.'

Bruning also indicated there were some problems that arose during the formative stages of the process that made him question if CenterCal and Troutdale were on the same page. He declined to elaborate on specifics, but said it would take time to fully answer city questions on certain matters - such as multi-level housing provisions and financing a large parking structure - that his company had not anticipated.

'A couple things happened,' Bruning said, 'but I don't want to cast aspersions. Sometimes local politics is a wonderful thing to behold.'

After a morning phone conversation with Troutdale Mayor Paul Thalhofer on Tuesday, April 22, Bruning said he felt he could play some role in helping the city develop the property. The developer mentioned possibilities involving the purchase and renovation of the adjoining outlet mall or the city selling its land directly to a tenant.

'I was very touched by the mayor's call,' Bruning said. 'It did a lot toward making me feel maybe our visions' are similar. 'I guess we're being open-minded.'

Thalhofer said he was distressed by the withdrawal of both developers, but was encouraged by his chat with Bruning. The developer said he would meet with the mayor when he returns from an upcoming business trip.

'My impression is that he wants to introduce us to (a retailer like) Cabela's,' Thalhofer said. 'I believe he will reconsider his position when he understands the support he has (from the city) for this project.'

The mayor said he hasn't spoken with Homer Williams of Williams and Dame since that company withdrew, adding he wasn't sure an appeal would be worthwhile at this point.

'I feel like they may be extended enough as it is,' he said of that company.

Acknowledging there's 'more than meets the eye' regarding the city's handling of its first urban renewal proposal, Thalhofer indicated the city would learn from the experience.

'You can always meet and talk about it and work out the problems,' he said. 'That's what negotiations are for. We're willing to do whatever it takes.'