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Designs unveiled for Oregon City Riverwalk to Willamette Falls

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A community event in Oregon City on Thursday, Nov. 17, allowed the public to see and discuss design concepts for the Willamette Falls Riverwalk for the first time.


A community event in Oregon City on Thursday, Nov. 17, allowed the general public to see and discuss design concepts for the Willamette Falls Riverwalk for the first time.

RENDERING COURTESY: SNOHETTA - Behind the redeveloped former Blue Heron paper-mill building, a public square with food carts is envisioned.Members of the public had strong reactions to seeing the images of potential designs, but project leaders said it will not be a matter of choosing a single “option” from what was presented. Metro's Lisa Konkola, the spokesperson for the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, emphasized that the unveiling of the designs marks only the midpoint of the riverwalk design process.

"There are still a lot of decisions to be made, so we are continuing to seek community feedback on the design alternatives," Konkola said.

Oregon City Manager Tony Konkol, who has been working on the project since the bankruptcy of Blue Heron in 2011, said he appreciated how architects have been incorporating ideas from the public that he “wouldn’t have thought possible” for the Riverwalk.

Creative ideas include a three-story play structure built inside of one of the large sphere digesters, which could also be filled to create a large natural planter.

RENDERING COURTESY: SNOHETTA - An explorer path is designed to give the public access to the dam owned by PGE next to Willamette Falls.Attendees at the Nov. 17 event got to try out various options for sections of the Riverwalk, experimenting with changing materials and uses on interactive poster boards that were meant to facilitate roundtable discussions with designers.

“It’s an absolute necessity to have a lot of multi-use public space as part of this development,” said Oregon City resident Jackie Hammond-Williams, who served on a focus group for the Riverwalk planning.

Michelle Delk, the project’s lead architect with Snøhetta, said that her team was finally able to unveil proposed concept areas for various aspects of the project, such as public space. Metro's contracted architect presented numerous ideas for the various areas of the riverwalk site, but not all of the site areas that are being designed were covered at the event.

Over the past year, various groups have helped the architects understand where there are opportunities. Input has come from the project’s four public partners, a technical advisory committee, the property owner, PGE, tribal leaders, and thousands of other citizens through public events and surveys.

“Obviously these architects have given this a lot of thought, so I think by the time this is done, everyone is going to love it,” said Ingrid Aubrey, a member of the friends of Willamette Falls group.

The riverwalk is being designed as part of a project to open public access to Willamette Falls, the second largest waterfall in North America, which has been closed to the public for more than 150 years. The preferred design for the riverwalk, which is scheduled to be unveiled early next year, is likely to include a combination of key elements included in the various design alternatives that were presented to the community Nov. 17.

"The preferred design may also introduce additional unique elements in response to ongoing feedback from the community and stakeholders, and discoveries made by riverwalk designers and project staff as they continue to explore the site’s complexities and opportunities," Konkola said. "The project’s four core values of public access, healthy habitat, historical and cultural interpretation, and economic redevelopment are the primary lens that will be used to evaluate design alternatives, but other important considerations such as community desires, technical feasibility and cost will also be included."

RENDERING COURTESY: SNOHETTA - A launching area for small paddle-powered boats is planned next to the riverwalk that will give public access to Willamette Falls in Oregon City.The open house included presentations by lead riverwalk designer Snøhetta at the Gregory Forum on Clackamas Community College's Oregon City campus.

The event was sponsored by the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, a collaborative partnership between Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the state aiming to revitalize the site of the former Blue Heron Paper Co. mill in Oregon City, which was shuttered after a bankruptcy in 2011.

The goal is to create a public riverwalk to Willamette Falls that will honor the area’s unique history and culture, provide people access to the falls and opportunities for recreation and education, restore and enhance the environment, and serve as a catalyst for a revitalized downtown Oregon City.

A preferred design chosen in 2017 and more detailed plans will lead to the beginning of construction scheduled for 2018.

"So the preferred design for the riverwalk that is unveiled next year will likely include a combination of the design concepts for each area of the riverwalk, as well as unique elements, as the process is ongoing," Konkola said.

People who couldn’t make it to the event can weigh in on a design-alternatives survey at rediscoverthefalls.com.