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Cornelius gets $3.2 million for downtown improvements

Officials hope street projects will make the city's core more enticing to developers
by: Chase Allgood, Mike Frandsen, CEO and president of New Season Foods in Forest Grove, stands atop some food processing machinery at the company’s plant on Yew Street.

Cornelius' plan to revitalize its downtown by completing street improvements got a big push last Thursday as the Metro council authorized $3.2 million in federal cash for boulevard projects along Baseline Road between 10th and 19th streets.

The grant means that the city's goal to revamp the Baseline and Adair Street couplet through most of downtown will be able to go forward as planned. Metro granted the city $1.8 million in funding for Adair in 1999, but since then the cost has increased dramatically to $3.5 million. The city has shuffled some federal funds from a 10th Avenue grant and will make up $1.7 million out of its own coffers.

Richard Meyer, Cornelius' development and planning director, said the cost increases and delays are largely out of the city's hands.

'It took three years for Cornelius to afford the local match, and now four years working with the Oregon Department of Transportation to design and ready the bidding for this project,' Meyer said. 'The city never sees the money. ODOT holds the federal grant funds, collects our local match and pays it out to contractors as the project unfolds.'

Construction on Adair is slated to begin sometime next year, but Baseline is still a ways out, with construction lasting at least until 2011.

Cornelius City Manager Dave Waffle said the Baseline project would take time to get off the ground as the city doesn't yet have a timeline, let alone a design for the project. But Waffle said that the wait would be worth it.

'Three years from now this downtown will look substantially different,' Waffle said.

Waffle said that the two main street projects will feature widened sidewalks without gaps, more street lighting and better pedestrian crossings.

The downtown plan also includes a project on 10th Avenue, which will join the couplet streets together with similar improvements.

In the latest bout for federal money, Cornelius' Baseline improvement went head-to-head with a petition from the city of Portland for $4.7 million in federal funds for a revamped East Burnside Street, and while the Cornelius project was ranked number one in the initial process, both projects were funded by Metro.

Waffle said that commuters could expect delays once construction begins on Adair and Baseline, even though the city is under strictures laid out by ODOT to keep a certain level of traffic flow through town during the day.

'It'll snarl things from time and it'll be a temporary disruption, but hopefully it will be worthwhile,' Waffle said. 'We'll try to keep that to a minimum.'

The potential for a traffic nightmare may lead to the work being done at night.

But Waffle said that, traffic aside, the end goal for the city is to make its downtown more enticing to developers - and he hopes that with recent commercial interest and a revamped main drag, that goal will be realized.

'We've heard rumors of properties being picked up for their commercial potential after the Wal-Mart appeals ran out,' Waffle said.

But since most lots along Baseline and Adair are small, it takes significant investment to purchase enough of them to be able to build a large development. Waffle hopes that by improving the roadways, the city will attract that kind of investment.