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by: PHOTO COURTESY: OREGON CITY - After Blue Heron closed operations, laying off 175 employees, the Willamette Falls property was put up for sale under the management  of a bankruptcy trustee.Oregon City has received bids from 14 consultants who’d like to lead visioning and master planning for the 23-acre Willamette Falls site of the bankrupt Blue Heron Paper Co. in collaboration with Metro, Clackamas County and the state.

The resulting vision could reconnect the public with North America’s second largest waterfall, significant wildlife habitat, and an important cultural site for native tribes along the Willamette River. After Blue Heron closed operations, laying off 175 employees, the property was put up for sale under the management of a bankruptcy trustee.

With a deadline last week, the flood of bids came only about a month after Oregon City issued a request for proposals on March 7 from MIG, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, OTAK, Siteworks, Duany Plater-Zyberk, Walker Macy, Sheils Obletz Johnson, SERA Architects, Angelo Planning Group, BergerABAM, Bldg Studio LLC, HKS Urban Design Studio, Van Meter Williams Pollack and PARC Northwest Legacy Team.

Oregon City seals the bids for its review of proposals to avoid disclosing contents to competing proposers during the process. In accordance with state public records laws, submissions and scoring will be open for public inspection after the notice of intent to award a contract is issued on May 8, said Oregon City planner Christina Robertson-Gardiner.

An 18-member selection committee has two members each representing Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, the state of Oregon and the trustee. Various stakeholder groups, including PGE, the Port of Portland, the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition, a member of OC’s Citizen Involvement Commission, Main Street property owner, an OC planning commissioner, a preservation advocate and a river/habitat advocate, will each have one member. Committee members will score written submissions and attend interviews on May 2 and 3 that will be closed to the public.

Based on the interviews and written submittals, the committee will make recommendations to forward the top two or three teams to the Oregon City Community Development Director Tony Konkol and Bankruptcy Trustee Peter McKintrick, who will make the final selection per the requirements of the collaborative planning agreement.

Preservation vs. interpretation

The concept of “preservation” became a key issue for Willamette Falls when the City Commission considered the cooperative planning agreement. Interested citizens attending a commission meeting noticed the absence of the word “preservation” in the partnership values language and requested it be restored. City commissioners agreed by a 5-0 vote on March 6.

At its next meeting on March 20, the City Commission reversed its vote, replacing the word “preservation” in favor of “interpretation.” Protesters argued “preservation” would indicate that some parts of the mill site would be saved from destruction, while “interpretation” could mean leveling the site and posting signs pointing to what was there during the 170 years of industrial operation.

City Manager David Frasher said the concern was that there were different views on the word “preservation,” and the agreement was originally worded vaguely on purpose to leave the door open for all possibilities at Willamette Falls. Mayor Doug Neeley said any changes to the agreement would have unraveled partnerships and prevented the current public master-planning process. They argued that if the city did not enter into the agreement as planned, the trustee could have walked away, and the city might have had little voice in the process.

Upcoming event

City officials hope the public’s vision for Willamette Falls will facilitate rezoning for economic redevelopment, and reserve part of the site as an outdoor destination. Public partners hope planning for the property will create an opportunity to purchase the portion necessary to let visitors experience the falls, offer cultural interpretation and historic preservation, and restore habitat along the Willamette River.

Oregon City will kick off National Preservation Month’s theme “See! Save! Celebrate!” with the presentation of the annual Ruth Powers Preservation Award at the May 1 City Commission meeting, 625 Center St., 7 p.m., and by announcing the 2013 Preservation Month Photo Contest through June 15, sponsored by the Oregon City Historic Review Board and the Clackamas County Historical Society.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation created Preservation Week in 1971 to spotlight grassroots preservation efforts in America. Due to its popularity, in 2005, the trust extended the celebration to the entire month of May to enable more Americans to become involved in the growing preservation movement.

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