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LORA is watching costs for downtown projects

With some Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency projects running 30 percent to 40 percent over budget, city leaders are keeping close tabs on upcoming urban renewal projects downtown.

Mayor Jack Hoffman said the agency's governing board, made up of the city council but dealing with downtown economic redevelopment, needs to be more involved, 'especially with big projects looming on the horizon.'

At its last meeting May 16, the board approved an adjustment to the agency's 2010-11 budget to pay $719,308 more for the Sundeleaf Plaza Park project, which had an approved cost of $1.8 million in October 2010.

The agency is nearly finished with Sundeleaf Plaza Park, on Lakewood Bay, which eventually will connect to Millennium Plaza Park on the waterfront. It also completed Millennium Plaza Park this year. Meanwhile, redevelopment staff members have been working on the North Anchor project.

The project, intended to anchor the north side of downtown as Lake View Village does to the south, will likely include a new public library in addition to new housing, retail and restaurant options at First Street and B Avenue. Today's rough estimates of the city's costs for the public-private partnership range from $38 million to $41 million.

A cost overrun rivaling those of recent projects would have dire consequences for the North Anchor redevelopment, LORA board members said.

In the case of Sundeleaf Plaza, on the former US Bank property on State Street, the board had hoped to save money by waiting to build the park until the lake was drained for construction of a floating sewer line.

But the delay, which required putting the project out to contractors for a new round of bids, had some costs of its own. In the end, managers still had to deal with piping water out of the site during a particularly heavy rain season. They also ran into other unexpected problems, including the need to redesign a seawall along the bay and conduct extra utility work.

'At the end of the day, I see a project 40 percent over budget,' said LORA member Jeff Gudman, questioning why managers hadn't built contingency money into the project's budget.

Brant Williams, the city's economic and capital development director, said he hopes to do a better job 'scooping' projects than the agency has done in the past, and to partner with engineering staff before going coming up with future budgets. That didn't happen as much when Bob Galante was in charge of the agency.

'Will we catch everything? No,' Williams said. However, 'I think we can do a better job.'

Also, he said, the agency hasn't spent as much as it planned to on some projects, such as lighting and landscaping improvements on Second Street and improvements on North Shore and State Street.

During a goal-setting session early in the year, Bill Tierney suggested creating a redevelopment board similar to other advisory groups and commissions to help manage the agency's work. Others have offered similar proposals, such as creating new task forces to help with specific redevelopment projects.

This year, LORA board meetings have been held separately from council meetings, on different evenings, so the group can give more time and attention to urban renewal projects. The next LORA meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 20.