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Cornelius wins tax credits to make dream come true

COURTESY GRAPHIC - Cornelius Place, with its new library and senior housing, got much closer to reality last Friday.It’s been ten years in the making, but groundbreaking may be in sight for the new $16.4 million Cornelius city library and 45 affordable senior housing units that will transform much of the city’s downtown.

The catalyst is more than $8 million in federal low-income housing credits that will ensure project financing. Cornelius received official word Friday, Nov. 18, that the Cornelius Place project had won the coveted tax credits, more than a year after applying and failing to win them in the summer of 2015.

“Cornelius Place will be a jewel for the community,” said Library Director Karen Hill in announcing the tax credits award at a Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday.

The three-story Cornelius Place will replace the current city council chambers and adjacent lawn on North Adair Street between North 13th and 14th avenues. The first floor will feature a 13,700-square-foot library, and a 3,000-square-foot youth recreation center.

“This library will be filled with spaces for all sorts of learners and include a children's area, teen room, business center, computers for job seekers and doing homework, small rooms for anyone to reserve and a large meeting room for civic and cultural activities,” Hill said.

Seniors from the apartments above, children from the school across the street, and library users of all ages and diverse backgrounds will enjoy the library and the downtown area every day, Hill predicted.

The library will also include a café kiosk, Friends of Library bookstore and Spanish collection. The new second and third floors will have the senior housing units and a residential community room.

The Cornelius Place concept is based on the widely lauded new mixed-used libraries in Portland’s Sellwood and Hollywood districts, which feature multi-level housing above first-floor libraries.

The existing library will largely be converted into city uses, such as a council chamber room to replace the current one on Adair Street.

Cornelius Place is a joint venture of the City of Cornelius Public Library and affordable housing nonprofit developers Bienestar, Inc., of Hillsboro and BRIDGE Housing of San Francisco. The $8 million in housing credits is essential for the $11,617,630 Bridge and Bienestar portion of the project, said Ryan Wells, Cornelius community development director.

"We still have some work to do," said City Council president Dave Schamp, noting there is $800,000 left to raise to meet the city's planned $4,800,000 contribution.

Wells expressed confidence the city can raise the remaining money from foundations, a $100,000 Metro in Neighborhoods grant, corporate grants and individual contributions. If so, groundbreaking could happen as early as summer 2017.

To help earn the federal tax credits, the Cornelius City Council unanimously approved an agreement in September uniting the expertise of Bridge and Bienestar. “Bridge will be the lead developer and Bienestar the public face of the project,” explained Anne Blaker, Bienestar executive director, at that time. Bienestar representatives will serve on the development steering committee and, upon project completion, will manage the residential units.

Rob Drake, Cornelius city manager, said Bienestar recruited Bridge “because Bridge is a national-level housing nonprofit with a wealth of knowledge in getting federal tax credits and development.”

State Rep. Susan McLain and Trina Whitman, Associate Project Manager, BRIDGE, also spoke at the luncheon announcement.