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Sandy paves way for town square

Anonymous donors give $50,000 to help with land sale
by: David Boehmke, This conceptual drawing of a proposed plaza project shows what the property may look like after multiple phases.

It appears that the next time the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce hosts its annual Music Fair and Feast during Mountain Days, it won't be at an empty, grassy lot at the east end of downtown - it will be at Sandy's equivalent of Pioneer Courthouse Square.

The city of Sandy has tentatively agreed to purchase the chamber's lot at the intersection of Hoffman Avenue and Highway 26 (Pioneer and Proctor boulevards) and to develop the land as a multi-purpose civic plaza, according to representatives from both groups.

'I'm glad that we were able to work something out,' said Mayor Linda Malone. 'The plaza will be a nice centerpiece of town with the museum and city hall. This serves the best interests of everyone involved.'

City Council is expected to formally ratify the agreement at its Aug. 7 regular meeting, which could set in motion plans to have the first phase of the plaza project complete in time for the 2007 Mountain Festival weekend.

In the agreement, the city plans to purchase the property from the chamber for $100,000, using urban renewal funds, and use an additional $150,000 to give the empty lot an attractive surface with pavers or colored concrete. Lazenby says that when not in use, the plaza could make a good basic civic 'living room' and attractive 'spillover' parking lot for museum and city events.

Other amenities, such as water features, a visitors' shelter, a gazebo, landscaping and trellises, will likely be added in phases after the initial paving project. Those phases will most likely be funded by state lottery dollars or Clackamas County Tourism grants.

'We won't be able to do anything fancy,' Lazenby said. 'There is a lot of future potential, but we hope we can get grants for those things.'

George Hoyt - the lead negotiator for the chamber board - agrees. '$150,000 doesn't go very far. All of fountains, pergolas, all that kind of stuff, probably all of that is not going to be included right away.'

The two groups last week finalized the terms of usage for the civic plaza, which gives the chamber uncontested use for its annual Music Fair and Feast and Christmas events and the seasonal Sandy Weekend Market.

The chamber has owned the Hoffman Street lot since 1997, when it paid $70,000 for the lot. The lot has appreciated significantly since then, said chamber board member George Hoyt. The 'best and highest use' of the property places the chamber lot's value at around $225,000.

After three years of discussions between the chamber and the city regarding the lot, the chamber agreed to accept no less than $150,000 for its lot. The city said it wouldn't pay more than $100,000.

Representatives from both groups say the deal would not have happened if not for the financial contributions of two anonymous donors. These individuals have pledged to donate $25,000 each to the chamber, bridging the price gap between the chamber and the city and making the transaction possible.

'It's pretty simple, really,' Lazenby said. 'The donations from the other private individuals made it happen.'

Assuming the sale goes through sometime in August, the chamber will no longer be entangled with the property financially, but will still work with the city in a consulting role with regard to the final plaza designs. The city would own the plaza and it would be under the jurisdiction of the Parks Committee.

Lazenby called the pending agreement a 'breakthrough' and said that the project may be on track to become a reality within a year.

'We'll try to have at least some level of improvements done by the next Mountain Festival,' he said. 'It's not going to be much more than an easy-to-maintain surface.' He said that there won't be much of the $150,000 left over after that. 'It will clean the lot up a bit.'

Both groups agree that it's important to just get something on the ground after a long discussion process.

'We're relieved; this moves the talks beyond where they've been,' Hoyt said.

The development of a multi-use civic plaza is been one of the city council's stated goals, and the chamber has been looking to get out of the real estate business for years.

'It's a maintenance/expense burden on the chamber,' Lazenby said. 'The chamber's primary mission is not to be property owners, it's to support businesses in the Sandy area. This relieves them of that burden and assures them that the lot will continue to be available for chamber events.'

'This serves the best interests of everyone involved,' Malone said.

'It's like a three-way win-win,' Lazenby echoed. 'The plaza will complement the museum and the visitor's center' and will be the capstone in the emerging civic district of Sandy - which includes Meinig Park, City Hall and the museum/visitor's center.