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Opponents say no plans currently exist to replace what has become a 'de facto community center' in Lake Oswego



REVIEW FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswegos West End Building is home to the Parks & Recreation Department, the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership, the Teen Lounge and a variety of city and community programs and meetings.With 11 unsealed bids now on the table, controversy is brewing around the potential sale of the West End Building and the fate of city offices, programs and meetings spaces housed there.

Community members and some city officials say it would be a mistake to dispose of a centrally located facility that could be used in a variety of economically viable ways. They also say that no plans are in place to house the programs and services that now call the WEB home.

BUCK“The purchase of the WEB may have been the mistake of a decade,” City Councilor Joe Buck says, “but the sale of the property will be the blunder of generations.”

Community activist Karen Crichton agrees, and she’s started a petition drive at change.org to stop the sale.

“Perhaps if more Lake Oswego folks were aware of all the activities and uses going on at the WEB, they'd be less willing to sell it,” Crichton says. “Over 7,000 hours of programming and over 500 meetings took place at the WEB in 2014 — over 20 hours per day.”

A variety of city and community meetings are held at the WEB, as well as classes, camps and special events. In addition, the WEB is home to the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership and the McKenzie Teen Lounge.

“The WEB is starting to serve more and more as a de facto community center," says Bill Gordon, an outgoing member of the city’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB). “We’ve got an asset that could really address virtually all of these needs, from small group meetings all the way up to meetings that would involve hundreds of people. It just seems like there are a lot of intriguing possibilities.”

On Tuesday night, the City Council agreed to discuss those possibilities. The council will hold an informal discussion about the WEB at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14, following a joint session with the Planning Commission.

The meeting will largely address options for relocating city services currently located inside the WEB, and city staff has agreed to distribute "fact sheets" about the WEB and associated costs to the council.

Moving toward a sale

Plans for the former Safeco Insurance building at 4101 Kruse Way have been murky at best since the city purchased it for $20 million in 2006 with the vague intention of using the 89,000-square-foot building and its surrounding 14 acres for a community center of sorts.

In the midst of the Great Recession, the property’s value plummeted and city resources were stretched thin. Community members repeatedly said they wanted the city to hold onto the WEB, but in 2008, voters rejected a bond measure to provide permanent financing for the property.

BOWERMAN“When the WEB was purchased, there was no plan for its use,” City Councilor Karen Bowerman says, “and subsequently, our citizens said, ‘We want the WEB, but we don’t want to pay for it.’”

In an October 2013 memo to the City Council, Redevelopment Director Brant Williams summarized the “general themes” of 20 studies, reports and public votes on the property since its purchase. Among those themes:

• Most people supported keeping the WEB;

• There was no consensus on how to pay for it;

• Another bond measure would probably not pass; and

• There was no consensus on what to do with the property, with options that included moving the library, City Hall or police/911 facilities there.

Given those results, the council opted to move forward with plans to sell the WEB.

A $16.5 million offer from San Francisco-based Kensington Investment Group fell apart in March 2014 amid zoning issues. Shortly thereafter, the city accepted a $20 million offer from local developer Nick Bunick on behalf of his nonprofit organization, The Great Tomorrow. Although Bunick paid a nonrefundable $200,000 deposit on the property, his funding never materialized and that deal quietly died late last year.

In December, the city hired Cushman & Wakefield to find a new buyer. The commercial real estate firm presented the city with 11 sealed bids in March; those offers are currently being reviewed.

Part of the allure of the Bunick deal was his offer to let the city continue to use the WEB rent-free. No details of the unsealed bids have been made public, but city officials admit they have made no specific post-sale plans for the offices and programs housed at the WEB.

In Williams' October 2013 memo to the council, he listed a variety of options for relocating services and programs, including vacant elementary schools, the North Anchor development and a combination of leased and purchased office space in Lake Grove, the Southwest Employment Area and other locations. Also among the suggestions: "Council could decide to no longer offer certain programs."

That lack of a specific plan has riled not only members of the community, but some members of the council as well.

“The city should not be gambling with services and programs that citizens depend on,” Buck says. “That’s why a comprehensive and definitive plan is needed, not a bunch of ‘if-then’ statements.”

GUDMANAt the council meeting Tuesday night, City Councilor Jeff Gudman asked each of his colleagues if their purpose was to reverse the decision to move forward with the sale of the building. In response, Buck, Bowerman and Councilor Jon Gustafson all referred to the idea of a "thoughtful pause" before a sale.

“I'm concerned that putting a thoughtful pause to elaborate and provide detail endangers the process we have all undertaken — I believe it was unanimously — to proceed with the sale of the building," Gudman said.

Bowerman objected to Gudman's characterization of the WEB issue as "paralysis by analysis," saying she felt the opposite has been true in the past two years.

“I would not support going further than slowing down the process for the purpose of developing a plan that is both conceptual and financial, for clarity on direction,” she said.

Bowerman says the logical time for that planning would have been before the WEB was listed for sale and before an offer was on the table.

“Before the WEB property was listed for sale, I said that if we were ever to give consideration to selling only a portion of the overall property, then would be the logical time for such a discussion,” she says. “There were no ‘multiple moving parts’ as there are now.”

Those “multiple moving parts” include upgrading a seismically unsound City Hall and finding a new home for the police and emergency response facilities currently housed there. A purchase-and-sale agreement for the property next door to City Hall— at 320 A Ave. — is scheduled to be presented to the council on April 21, but previous studies have shown that it might be cheaper to renovate the WEB to accommodate City Hall and build a new police/911 facility on the Kruse Way property instead.

According to a 2012 Major Capital Facilities Financing Analysis Report, the cost for that option — including the debt owed on the WEB and subtracting the projected market value of City Hall facilities downtown — came to about $30.4 million. The price of a temporary City Hall during construction, an expanded downtown police facility (including new property acquisitions) and the remaining debt on the WEB if it was sold came to $36.6 million, the report said.

Currently, the city pays $1.5 million annually in loan payments, maintenance and operations costs associated with the WEB. Relocating the services and programs currently housed at the WEB would cost an estimated $400,000 a year, assuming the city could find office space for $10-$15 per square foot. That total does not take relocation costs into account.

“We just feel that by taking a pause on the WEB, in better economic times, there could be a phased-in approach where the building and that property could be utilized on an incremental basis,” Gordon says, “perhaps ultimately leading to more of a full-service community and recreation center.”

How to pay for it?

That still doesn’t address the question of how the city will fund the construction, Gudman argues. If the city sells the WEB and keeps City Hall and a police/911 facility downtown, it can tap into redevelopment funding.

It’s been done before, Gudman points out.

“We’ve already crossed the Rubicon of using the money for a public facility — we’ve used it to pay for a fire station,” he says. “And indeed, we’ve used it for the park down there, all of which is very public, because we believed it would add value to the city overall.”

In other words, Gudman says, “we can do it downtown without asking the citizens for more money, or we can do it at the West End Building by asking the citizens for more money.”

Still, the plan doesn’t sit well with everyone. Buck has said he does not support the use of urban renewal funds to pay for a municipal building.

“That’s the complete opposite of urban renewal, in my opinion,” he says. “In my mind, how we fund it is going to be the same either way. We need to find the best location and make sure that when we spend these taxpayer dollars, we’re spending them in the most fiscally prudent way possible.”

Gordon says he and other PRAB members agree.

“We feel that the potential use of redevelopment money for a project that takes a property off the tax rolls is not in the spirit of redevelopment,” he says.

Interestingly enough, the recent groundswell to delay the sale of the WEB began during a recent PRAB meeting. “A few of us found that we somewhat coincidentally had the same attitude about the WEB when we talked about it,” Gordon says, describing an “aha!” moment when many members realized they had never even toured the building in its entirety.

“That’s when we decided — not as PRAB, but individually — that we would start to at least make our voices known,” Gordon says. “Our feeling was that the whole process should be slowed down, that there should be more citizen involvement — particularly because not much has happened officially over the last four or five years.”

He admits that resistance to the sale comes at the last minute.

“But from my perspective, it’s never too late until the deal closes,” Gordon says. “Even though the timing isn’t quite as optimal as we would hope, that doesn’t mean you have to make a short-term decision that you’ll ultimately, as a city, regret in the long term.”

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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