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Weaving through the WEB

Frank Groznik, a Lake Oswego city councilman, calls it 'the Gordian Knot of governance.'

But the issue of the West End Building - whether to sell it, keep it or craft some combination of the two - may finally be creeping toward resolution through a nine-part plan approved Tuesday.

Crafted by elected officials and city staff, the project involves a team of public employees, multiple service contracts and an estimated $187,000 in public spending, squeezed down from an original $255,000.

Expected to occupy much of the next six months with studies, focus groups and community outreach, the West End Property Decision-Making Process promises a January report that will, once and for all, resolve the question of what Lake Oswego will do with the hastily acquired building at 4101 Kruse Way.

Approved by the Lake Oswego City Council Tuesday, the process begins with an assessment of city facilities that is expected to continue through the summer. Before putting the process in motion, four members of the Lake Oswego City Council turned out for a round-table talk Monday, tweaking the plan's final details.

Evident in the discussion: The high level of tension surrounding the topic, the variety of possibilities now open for the West End Building and city leaders' lack of clear insight into what their constituents would opt to do with the building if left to decide its fate.

'I think everybody on the city council realizes it's an important investment for the future but we really can't do this by ourselves,' said Mayor Judie Hammerstad.

As community priorities shift and the economic downturn forces Lake Oswegans into a cautious financial posture, Hammerstad said voters have pulled back support for the West End Building. But the council remains united in its hopes of keeping the building, she said, and putting it into its highest possible use.

Yet the clock is running out.

'We don't have time to go through the process and make the right decision,' she said.

The current city council will lose three of its members in January. Groznik will not seek re-election and Councilors John Turchi and Ellie McPeak will step down due to term limits. Hammerstad will also step down due to term limits.

Instead of resolving the fate of the West End Building, the council is poised to hand-off a complete assessment of public sentiment, city facilities and related finances to a new city council in January.

Council President Turchi characterized the analysis this way: 'If we hadn't purchased the WEB building and we were looking at our city facilities now, would we have need to purchase something like the WEB or would we have approached it in a different way?'

Answering the question will require a complete inventory of city buildings and their values, a plan for future facility needs and possible uses for the West End Building, along with ideas for private partnerships, selling off portions of the site or the implications of selling it.

Information from those efforts will be distributed publicly. Lake Oswegans may also respond to surveys. Some will be asked to join intense focus groups geared to advise the city council, which account for much of the processes' cost. By mid-January, a final report will be presented to the next city council for a decision.

By then, only Donna Jordan, Kristin Johnson and Roger Hennagin will remain members of the current Lake Oswego City Council. The remainder of the decision makers will be newly elected officials chosen by voters in November.