City planners hope to draw developer visions for site

The Times-Litho site at the corner of Pacific Avenue and B Street could set a new tone for Forest Grove development.

“There’s potential up the wazoo here,” Mayor Pete Truax said at a recent City Council work session. Ideas for the site, he said, range from office space to a warehouse to knocking it all down to a plaza with a water feature.

It could also become the kind of four-story, mixed-use, high-density development city planners are hoping to encourage downtown, said Jeff King, the city’s economic development manager.

In a contentious 4-3 vote on Dec. 31, the Forest Grove City Council approved purchase of the 2.68-acre site, which formerly housed a thriving printing business. It includes a 46,000-square-foot industrial building, a 6,649-square-foot office building and a 1,000-square-foot home.

Now the city is moving forward — forging ahead with a market study that will document the feasibility of development, and establishing an ad-hoc, seven-person committee to develop objectives for the site.

In a prime location, the site is close to Pacific University, downtown amenities and the TriMet bus line, which make it attractive for a high-density, mixed residential and commercial project, King said.

Also feeding into that possibility is a recent “megatrend” of younger people moving away from owning homes and cars, King said.

But developers have cautioned the city that such projects are generally more expensive than other options, due to parking issues and higher system-development charges.

City officials have been promoting the site to developers and getting their input, but are not yet ready to take concrete steps such as renting out space or improving (or tearing down) buildings.

At some point, the city will put out an official RFP (request for proposal) that will draw bids from developers, King said.

“They’ll come back with their concepts and designs, so we don’t want to micro-manage it,” he said.

But first the city needs the market study.

“Any market analysis this year will be obsolete next year,” Councilor Richard Kidd warned, noting that the “market” is changing daily as the economy struggles out of a recession.

Kidd also cautioned against predicting the success of a development based on the city’s current demographics.

“The demographics of Forest Grove mean nothing with this project,” he said, “because the project — if done right — will bring the demographics here.”

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