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The WEB untangled


What a tangled WEB this city has had for seven years. But finally, in our Oct. 8 city council meeting, we signed an agreement to sell the West End Building for $16.5 million — the best offer we’ve had since owning the building. Studebaker

Evaluations from local and national developers show us that this is a very good price. Here are the reasons I had for agreeing to that sale.

In its tangled history this community has been unable to agree on how to use the WEB or how to pay for it. You may be unaware that the WEB, even though it is city property, is actually owned by the bank and not the city.

The WEB was originally purchased for $20 million with a line-of-credit loan and until a couple of years ago the city only paid the interest on the loan. Not surprisingly, the lenders started to insist we begin to pay down the principal. We still owe $17.5 million on the building.

The city asked voters to authorize bonds to pay for the WEB to convert it to a community center. That request was soundly rejected. In several community attitude surveys conducted since that vote, residents have continued to oppose authorizing funds to pay for the WEB. So the city council was stuck between a rock and a hard place. We maintained but did not own a severely underutilized property that voters refused to pay for.

The WEB is 89,000 square feet of mostly open area with very few actual offices. Although it could have been converted to a city hall, the overwhelming majority of the city populace did not want to move city hall from its present location. The same is true of the library, although an additional constraint for it would have been that it could only have been on the bottom floor of the WEB because the building is not seismically sound.

A good community center, though nice to have, would have been a hugely expensive use of the property. The property could potentially have served as a way to get more city services, library, police and city hall (whose relocation, as I previously said, was very unpopular with citizens) closer to the west (end) of the city. But we can think creatively here and have satellite locations and meeting rooms in Lake Grove.

Counting principal and interest payments and maintenance and operational costs, the city pays about $1.5 million per year to operate the building. Sixteen parks and recreational employees and the water project personnel currently at the WEB will need, for a period, to have leased office space. Even considering that cost, we will save at least $1 million per year as a result of selling the building. That is money we can productively apply toward the cost of refurbishing the operations center, a public safety facility and increasing road maintenance.

I know our decision is not universally popular, but Lake Oswego’s funding priorities must no longer be dragged down by the tangled WEB. A journalist once said that it is easier to capitalize on one’s gains than profit from one’s losses. With this sale at a good price, we have cut our losses, and that was the smart thing to do.

Kent Studebaker, Lake Oswego, is the mayor of Lake Oswego.