Those of us who've expressed interest in the Safeco project have many concerns, both positive and negative, about the potential future of the site as a city-owned facility. At least two of these have not received as much attention as they should.
Some believe that the project represents the only chance that we'll ever have in decades for everything from a new pool to a place where scouting groups can meet. It isn't. Lake Oswego put together a park master plan in 2002, which includes almost everything that is proposed for the center and at a much lower cost. (There's that money thing again. Sorry about that.) The plan does not require the individual facilities to be combined into one grand community center. Instead, it leaves open the possibility of locating facilities where they're most needed, often on land already owned by the city or through cooperative agreements with the school district or with other landowners.
This is important.
If you have a map of Lake Oswego available, please look at it. The northernmost point in the city lies on Stephenson Street right across from Portland Community College and the southernmost is along the Tualatin River south of Bryant. The midpoint between the two would be near the Lake Grove Post Office. Imagine an east-west line through that point. To the east, the line would touch the northern edge of George Rogers Park, and to the west it would intersect I-5 just north of the Carman Drive interchange. Now consider where existing community center-type facilities lie in relation to that line.
The public swimming pool at Lake Oswego High is north of the line. All of the fitness centers and most of the yoga and Pilates studios are to the north. The great majority of meeting rooms available to the public are in the northern half of the city. These include publicly owned facilities such as the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center; private non-profit properties such as the Lakewood Center for the Arts, the Heritage House and many churches; and private for-profit venues such as hotels, restaurants, and banks. Safeco is also well north of the line.
Wouldn't it make more sense to put new facilities where they're needed and as they're needed?
Even if we don't use the property for a community center, some would like to keep it as a possible new library or city hall.
Our city has something that few others in the area have. We have a center: A viable and walkable center which, so far at least, has not been totally overwhelmed by gridlock. It's not the geographic or demographic midpoint. Those change with every annexation and every time someone moves into or out of town. Our center is what we usually call 'downtown.' It may not be where we would like it, but it is our historic, civic, local business, transit, and cultural heart.
City centers are rarely at geographic or population midpoints. Portland and Seattle have maintained their original centers near their historic waterfronts even as their midpoints wandered with population and geographic growth. A big part of what makes those two cities special has been their success at keeping their centers intact while still providing neighborhood facilities where needed. It would be a shame if Lake Oswego with far fewer people and much less area couldn't do the same.
Our center has taken its share of hits over the years. Bridgeport Village was one of the recent ones. Now there is the very real possibility that with the proposed streetcar extension, we may bring added congestion by turning part of our center into a park-and-ride facility for Portland commuters, many of whom don't even live in Lake Oswego.
We don't need to entice the current and future city councils into moving our city hall or library out of our center. That would be nothing less than tearing apart our heart. If for no other reason, that is why we must sell Safeco.
R A Fontes is a resident of Lake Oswego.