Council opts to retain ownership rather than sell the historic site
by: vern uyetake, City officials stand outside of the historic Iron Workers Cottage, a landmark the city bought in 2002. The city council decided to retain ownership on Tuesday rather than selling the simple residence to a private entity.

The city of Lake Oswego is looking to go into business with a nonprofit to operate and maintain the historic Iron Workers Cottage, a local landmark the city bought in 2002.

The city council on Tuesday gave staff members the go-ahead to solicit potential partnerships with an organization that could manage the building as an exhibit and meeting space, likely in exchange for free rent or coverage of other expenses, as the city would retain ownership.

The cottage was rented out to a tenant for awhile, but officials and historic preservation advocates have since been looking for a plan to restore and maintain it.

Built in the late 1870s or early 1880s by local carpenters known to have constructed many buildings for Oswego Iron Company - which later became Oregon Iron and Steel Company - the simple cottage at 40 Wilbur St. is considered one of the city's most intact sites related to its iron heritage. The 900-square-foot rectangular abode also serves as a rare example of an old building technique: vertical plank construction, a method that made for quick housing. The cottage has no frame; instead, the walls are made of planks standing upright and nailed to a base and top plate. The planks hold up the roof.

The city has allocated $70,000 to stabilize the building and prevent additional deterioration and plans to spend another $60,000 in the next fiscal year for the second phase of restoration work. But implementing the third phase of a 2008 preservation plan will cost more money, and that work will depend on how the building is used in the long run.

A work group analyzing the cottage's future considered a handful of scenarios, including selling the building, before recommending that the city retain ownership but look for help in managing it as a meeting and exhibit space.

Each of the scenarios involved one-time costs over and above what has been budgeted, said Brant Williams, assistant city manager. The earliest a new tenant or manager could move in is likely in early 2014, he said.

Associate Planner Paul Espe, the Lake Oswego Historic Resources Advisory Board's staff liaison, said using the cottage for exhibit and meeting space 'seemed to be the best choice,' given limitations on access to the site and an ongoing need for a place to showcase relics of Lake Oswego's iron heritage.

Councilor Mary Olson said, although keeping the cottage will cost the city $6,000 to $8,000 for ongoing operations and maintenance, she supported the work group's recommendation, in part because opening the cottage would enhance the city's Iron Heritage Trail.

'Our role is to preserve and enhance our city's historic resources,' she said. 'That's why we bought that building in the first place.'

And, while the city shows strong support for arts programs, Olson said, 'We've never really done that for historic resources. … I think the value of our historic resources and historic tourism has been neglected for years in this city. I see this as a first step to remedy that.'

Councilor Donna Jordan said she feels the city has made progress in recognizing the value of historic resources, for example, restoring the iron furnace at George Rogers Park. It's one of seven sites included in the iron heritage route.

'This is just another adjunct to that,' Jordan said. 'Now that we've spent the money to restore the furnace, we've got people coming here to look at it. It's nice we also have preserved this cottage that is directly tied to the iron industry and the companies that brought workers here.'

Councilor Bill Tierney said preserving the cottage is 'critical,' but he wants to ensure that whatever entity rents it 'has the financial ability in the short term and maybe the long term to maintain that.'

If the city relies on a nonprofit organization to maintain the cottage and that nonprofit were to bow out in two or three years, he said, 'I'm not sure we can succeed it.'

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