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Milwaukie: Three paths to next development on Main

Three ideas for the shape of downtown Milwaukie were on display last Tuesday, as the city held an open house to show off three proposals for a mixed-use project along McLoughlin Boulevard at the site of the old Texaco station.

'There was a great response from the community in terms of their comments. They also had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with members of the teams making the proposals,' said Kim Knox, a project manager with Shiels Obletz Johnsen.

The Portland firm is overseeing the project under a contract with the city and the Metro regional government, which have partnered to develop the site.

'We got three proposals, all from very accomplished developers in the Portland region,' said Knox. 'This kind of a project is a niche market, in terms of who is willing to go through the brain damage to do it, so this is an impressive showing.'

Proposals were received - in alphabetical order, Knox stressed - from Costa Pacific Communities, Main Street Partners, LLC, and Winkler Development Corporation.

Costa Pacific built Hillsboro's Orenco Station in 2001, and is beginning work on The Metropolitan in Boise, Idaho. Main Street Partners, LLC, developed the recently completed North Main Village complex in downtown Milwaukie. Winkler Development converted a 350,000-square-foot medical center into a new corporate headquarters for adidas, and has several mixed-use projects starting construction in 2008.

The selection process is being guided by a nine-member citizen's advisory committee - five chosen by the city and four by Metro. All nine are Milwaukie residents.

The committee established the parameters for the project embodied in the 'request for proposals,' known in the development community as an RFP. It established four baseline criteria for the selection of a developer: firm experience, building concept, financial capacity and business offer.

'Primarily, the community cares about what the building looks like, and the expertise of the firm,' said Knox. 'In those other two areas, the project management group is performing a technical review and due diligence.'

According to Knox, several different issues emerged at the open house, beginning with the height of the building. The RFP indicated that the building finished building could be either four or five stories high. At present, the city's zoning ordinance limits buildings to four stories, but Metro would like to see a taller structure to enable higher-density development.

'We heard a lot of comments about the height at the open house, but the comments are much more informed now,' Knox said. 'People would say that the height bothered them because it was too blocky, or there was a lack of architectural detail.

'It's an informed preference now, not just an arbitrary reaction to a number.'

Parking is another key issue highlighted by citizens, concerned that the building's new residents and businesses could further reduce the number of available spaces downtown.

'The current ratio provided by the building is one space per residential unit - the community is concerned that isn't enough,' said Knox. 'There is a larger issue of parking in downtown Milwaukie, which a single development can't solve.'

Knox explained that it is in the developer's best interest to provide an adequate supply of parking.

'A developer isn't going to sell the building if the market won't tolerate the parking ratio,' she said. 'It's not like they want to include less parking just to get away with something.'

The style of the building was another topic much discussed by the 75 or more city residents who turned out for the event, although no clear consensus on a favorite emerged.

'Between the three proposals, there are two pretty distinct styles represented,' said Knox. 'Half the people liked one, and half the people liked the other one.'

She said that a decision regarding which design and development team to select would be forthcoming in mid-April, and construction could begin in the summer of 2008. Whatever the outcome, Milwaukie has grabbed the attention of the region's development community, according to Knox.

'North Main set and incredible precedent,' she said. 'The caliber of people who have brought forward proposals is very exciting for Milwaukie. People are looking at Milwaukie - it's one of those best-kept secrets that's starting to get out.

'People want to live in downtown Milwaukie, and that's one of the best things you can do to bring a community back.'