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Lake Oswego City Council votes to proceed with sale of West End Building

Often-heated debate centers on future of programs now housed in the Kruse Way property


REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Matt DAndre helps Lisa Rueben sign up for a dance class at the Parks & Recreation Departments offices in the West End Building. The WEB also is home to the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership, the McKenzie Teen Lounge and a variety of classes, camps and special events. GUSTAFSONDespite calls from some councilors and community members for a “thoughtful pause,” the Lake Oswego City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to continue the process for selling the West End Building.

Councilors gathered for the informal study session to discuss the fate of the 89,000-square-foot building and the 14 acres that surround it at 4101 Kruse Way. A variety of city and community meetings are held at the WEB, as well as classes, camps and special events. It also is home to the city’s Parks & Recreation Department and other offices.

In December, the city hired the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield to market the property, and 11 offers currently are on the table.

The council scheduled the study session in response to concerns raised by Councilor Joe Buck, members of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and others that the WEB is being sold without considering all of the alternatives. Community activist Karen Crichton launched a change.org petition drive to halt the sale; as of Wednesday, it had 262 signatures.

On Tuesday, the debate spilled over into City Hall, where the conversation among councilors often turned heated and was met occasionally by cries of protest from the audience that prompted Mayor Kent Studebaker to admonish the crowd.

Councilor Jon Gustafson — who along with Buck voted against continuing to pursue a sale — criticized a fact sheet and background information prepared by city staff for the meeting as “not objective” and “not informative.” The two-page report included "frequently asked questions" and brief points about the building's history.

“Quite frankly, it compromised my ability to do the job that I was elected to do,” Gustafson said.

Buck agreed, objecting in large part to the lack of information about where Parks & Recreation offices and activities might be housed in the event of a sale.

“I think people think we're jumping out of the plane, not knowing if we're over water, mountain or flat land, and just hoping it'll work out in the end,” Buck said. “We don’t have a long-term plan.”

ONEILLBut Councilor Skip O’Neill objected to keeping what he called “an underused facility” that posed too much of a financial burden on the community.

“(Parks & Recreation offices) use up about 25,000 square feet of a 90,000-square-foot building on 14 acres,” he said. “They're a pretty small part of a pretty large item.”

Gustafson asked for clarification about what would happen to the offices and activities housed at the WEB if the building is indeed sold.

“I don't think we can leave it at, ‘We'll find a space,’” he said, “because I feel like even if you can take all of the pieces that fell apart when we dismantled this location, there's a certain value in having the sum of all the parts in one location versus what we had pre-WEB, which was rather hodgepodge service locations scattered all over the place.”

Asked by Gustafson why there would be no opportunity for public comment on Tuesday, Studebaker replied, “All of us have read all the emails, they've been very clear about what their position is, what their concerns are. I don't see any reason to beat it to death at this point.”

That was met by a cry of “Transparency!” from the audience, and Gustafson suggested another public vote.

“Quite frankly, I feel like we had a couple of very informative votes. We had a vote that said ‘We want to keep the building,’ and we had another vote that asked ‘Do you want to raise your taxes to pay for it,’ and they said ‘no.’ In my mind, that gave us the perfect instructions," he said. "And we've been following that. We didn't sell the building, and we didn't raise their taxes. We made it work, we made it fit our budget, and we tailored the rest of our expenses accordingly.

“Now,” he said, “we're having a fair discussion of those trade-offs.”

Buck rejected the notion that the WEB is unaffordable, insisting that the property would prove to be a good long-term investment. Studebaker disagreed.

“The real question,” the mayor asked, “is what are our needs and how are we going to pay for them?”

Bowerman, who last week said she supported taking a “thoughtful pause” in the sale process to get some “clarity on direction,” said Tuesday she was not convinced that the sale should be canceled entirely.

“If the city were to keep the WEB,” she said, “to me the central question is: What would be offered to our residents better than they would otherwise be offered?”

After the vote, Buck suggested that "if this council is sincere in its intention to maintain these resources on the west side of town and maintain this level of services, that we commit resources that are going to be supposedly freed up by this sale to do so.”

Councilor Jackie Manz agreed to take the lead on that effort, saying she would inititate discussions about a "set-aside fund" for potential locations for city services in the Lake Grove area.

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or ssorenson@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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