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Citizen's View: Let's catch our breath and look at West End Building one more time

Was it a mistake for the city to buy the West End Building a few years ago? Maybe. But maybe it’s a bigger mistake to sell it now.

With a number of opportunities to dispose of it coming up short and the economy improving, we have the perfect opportunity to re-examine the role of the WEB in meeting the city’s operational and civic needs, which are growing.

Before the city makes a final decision to dispose of this prime piece of property located in the demographic center of Lake Oswego, let’s look at its functional and financial value and how it fits in the city’s portfolio from the perspective of 2015, not from the economic chaos of 2008.

Functionally, the WEB houses important community activities: the very popular — some would say critical — Teen Center; recreation programs such as art, dance, yoga and exercise for adults, kids and parents; a number of heavily-used meeting and classrooms; a commercial kitchen and event space; and city offices, including Parks and Recreation.

Just look at the Parks and Rec Activities Guide to see how important this facility is in providing recreation services. Removing the WEB from the city’s inventory would mean finding space elsewhere for these uses. But no other city facilities can accommodate them, and placing them in currently underutilized schools is not a long-term solution.

Additionally, there are other critical city services that are limited due to the size, location and condition of their facilities — services and needs that will only grow in the future. These include the Adult Community Center, Police and Life Safety, City Hall and maintenance offices. Perhaps the WEB can efficiently and effectively meet these needs. Before we sell a large, contiguous, centrally-located property with great transportation access and plenty of parking, we should consider if it makes sense to then have to accommodate these needs in a number of small properties scattered throughout the city.

Financially, the city’s long-term economic health lies not in expanding the taxes of homeowners, but in expanding its economic base. Relocating some of the above-mentioned activities to the WEB and selling their current facilities would help with this. For example, the ACC could be sold and developed for a dozen residences. The prime downtown City Hall could be sold and redeveloped for commercial use. These properties would go back on the tax roll, instead of being exempt from paying taxes.

Citizens of Lake Oswego expect long-term thinking and planning from their city leaders, particularly in the operation and offering of basic city services. Let’s encourage them to convene a task force to make an objective analysis of using the WEB as a multi-use facility versus many single-use facilities to meet the city’s needs for the next 25-30 years.

We have an opportunity to ensure that what we do now is in our best interests in the long term. If we do not follow a logical and systematic process, then the sale of the WEB will be open to the same criticism and controversy that surrounded its acquisition. Let’s catch our breath and look at the WEB one more time. It’s our last chance.

Nancy Gronowski is a resident of Lake Oswego. She wrote this Citizen’s View with the support of Dave Barra, Scott Bullard, Steve Dodds, Bill Gordon, Ryan Hubbard and Chris Stewart.


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