A city-funded contract, approved last week, will design a future park on Lakewood Bay in place of what is now the U.S. Bank building on State Street, already owned by Lake Oswego.

City officials cautiously approved a $175,502 contract to design Oswego Lakefront Park April 3, with some expressing concern the project would send the wrong message to a populace already concerned about spending.

Acting in their capacity as directors of the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency, the city council awarded the no-bid contract to MacLeod Reckord Landscape Architects, the same firm that designed Millennium Plaza Park.

The contract was not bid out because the city aims to connect the two parks and duplicating MacLeod Reckord's designs with another contractor would run afoul of copyright issues.

Though developing Lakefront Park has been on the city's task list since 2003 - a master plan for the park was created then - some city leaders expressed trepidation about approving designs now.

Ultimately, the majority of the group voted in favor of going ahead, since U.S. Bank's lease on the city-owned building expires in December 2009 and construction on the park was targeted to begin then.

Councilor Ellie McPeak voted no on the contract and pressed the group to wait six months.

'It just feels like a tipping point to me,' she said. 'It's just another project that a lot of people will seize on as unnecessary right now and other people will seize on the threat to the hotel.'

The Lakeshore Inn at 210 North State Street is included in design plans, though the city does not own the building but aspires to.

McPeak said she doesn't disagree with the plan for the park but thinks the timing is bad.

'It's really a judgement about how this will be viewed by the Lake Oswego citizens,' she said.

Recognizing local concern about the fiscal impact to repair sewer and water utilities, McPeak said she wanted to demonstrate fiscal restraint.

'Our decisions about how we move through this period in a responsible way are not as fun but probably more important than anything we've done up until now,' she said.

Other elected officials disagreed.

Mayor Judie Hammerstad said concern about local costs shouldn't discourage projects that simply pull from available funds.

The design contract will be funded by the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency, which draws from property tax in its downtown urban renewal area and has its own annual budget.

Hammerstad encouraged local leaders not to let the big decisions that loom lead to inaction on little ones.

She pointed out that the bank building has nearly paid for itself in rent and that redeveloping it should stay on track like any other public program that's already in the works.

She later said she hears public concern about costs but believes officials' real work will be in fiscal planning for the big-ticket items.

'I'm worried,' she said, 'but what I'm most worried about is that the power of negativity or worst-case scenarios is going to influence the council about making good decisions for other projects.'

She said it's necessary to go forward with planned projects, particularly those with lower costs.

'We're simply following along on the same plan that we've had all along, and that's specific regarding downtown,' she said.

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