A number of citizens are calling for sale of the Safeco Building, now that the city purchased it. I disagree, even though it is not cheap, and the city has pressing financial needs for sewer and water improvements that require some $200 million.
The city looked into buying Safeco or another site for the library, at the request of several neighborhood groups and library supporters. In 1995-1999, my neighborhood association (Holly Orchard) recommended that the city buy Safeco or another site on Kruse Way. We also asked for a community and recreation center. Studies showed that the Safeco site was the best site available for the library.
When Safeco re-offered the site for sale in 2006, city council bought it quickly, by starting condemnation and borrowing the $20 million price. Council had to move quickly, or it would have lost the site. Council should not be faulted for moving decisively. It reacted to years of requests and studies.
What council does next is critical. It must be responsive to citizen fears of over-spending. The city should not sell the parcel, but should not spend too much until it quantifies its other liabilities, either. It should renovate and use the current building.
There are very few large sites in the city suitable for library or community center uses. Traffic and parking are big concerns. Most Kruse Way office owners will not sell separate buildings. Downtown has no large lots that are suitable. The south end has traffic limitations. Safeco is unique. We, as a city, should hold onto its large lot for current uses and future expansion.
Safeco has about 14.7 acres with over 8 acres of usable land (subtracting wetlands and such). The solid building is in good condition, with 89,000 square feet of space. There are 298 parking spaces with more land for future building expansion. Access from Kruse Way and from Boones Ferry both have traffic signals. It is very near the population center of the city.
The library needs 43,000 square feet, leaving plenty of room for a community center or city offices. Renovation is not expensive. New interior walls, carpets, paint, lights and ventilation modifications are needed. We could even move offices from city hall to Safeco, temporarily, or permanently if it is too expensive to repair city hall's mold and seismic problems. For these reasons, I have no quarrel with purchasing Safeco.
The city appears to be doing more, however. The city hired an architect to study potential uses of Safeco. The architects are considering projects costing about $100 million. The city may shift part of that cost to private developers, by selling part for residential or office development.
The city directed the architects to consider mixed public and private development, partly because the city changed its regulations recently to require residential and employment density be built on Safeco when it is redeveloped. That change should be reversed.
Such a sale will reduce the size and usefulness of Safeco, and limit expansion of city services on the site. There is very little land available in Lake Oswego for future expansion, and less land with good access.
The city should use Safeco with minor renovations now, and save expansions until we have a plan to fund services we need immediately: sewer replacement, water expansion and transportation improvements, costing about $200 million.
It would be shortsighted to sell Safeco now. We own it, and it will be a good long-term investment in the west side. It will serve as a gateway to Lake Oswego from I-5 and 217, as the only city service building in the Lake Grove area.
The city council will hear public concerns about sewers and water, and their costs in 2007-08. Council should adopt a go-slow approach to Safeco, hold onto this unique asset, and plan to develop Safeco more intensively later, when the public understands the costs we face.
Ed Trompke is a resident of Lake Oswego.