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One man's plan to fix downtown

Could a YMCA be the answer to Tigard's problems?


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard High School student Carter Kruse, 17, and real estate agent Neal Brown tour downtown Tigard, where they hope to build a YMCA.If you ask Neal Brown, the most important street in Tigard isn’t Pacific Highway or Interstate 5, it’s tiny Burnahm Street, near downtown.

It doesn’t look like much. A few businesses line the half-mile street, along with a small dog park and a fire station, but to Brown, a real estate agent from Bull Mountain, it’s the key to Tigard’s success.

“It really should be the cultural center of the city,” Brown said.

Brown has a plan to put a recreation center on Burnham Street, and a crowd of supporters descended on Tigard’s City Council chamber last week to drop off more than 1,200 signatures in support of the plan.

“If we want to activate downtown, this, in my opinion, is the way to do it,” Brown said.

Tigard’s downtown has long struggled, but Brown said bringing a rec center to the area could give it the boost it needs.

“A community center brings people, people bring money, money brings more businesses, and more businesses bring more people,” he said.

Brown said, ideally, he’d like the community center to be managed by the YMCA and has spent years putting together a plan to entice the organization to come to town.

Building community

Brown is a constant presence at City Council meetings and has spent the past several months walking from house to house across the city, gathering signatures in support of the project.

The nearest YMCA is in Sherwood, but Brown said that’s often too far for families to drive.

The Sherwood YMCA brings in about 22,000 visitors a month, exactly what Tigard needs to help the long-struggling downtown gain a foothold.

“That’s 22,000 visitors a month coming downtown,” Brown said. “It gets them in the habit of coming down here. You go shopping, or to dinner. It brings happy people, and happy people bring money, and money grows businesses, and then people will want to build apartments here, and the downtown will grow organically. That’s the dream.”

Brown — who met his wife at the YMCA on Barbur Boulevard before it was shut down in 2009 — said having a recreation center is vital to strengthening the community.

“When I go to the Y in Sherwood, I see every religion, I see everyone out there. It’s a mixture of people,” Brown said. “What Sherwood is doing is building community. That’s what we’re not doing, and we need to.”

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Neal Brown met his wife at a YMCA and has worked for years to bring the popular rec center to Tigard. He said the project would help revitalize downtown.Brown already has an agreement with a property owner who is willing to sell.

That property would provide a home for the YMCA, as well as a small community theater for Mask & Mirror Community Theater, the Tigard-Tualatin-based community theater which currently operates out of Calvin Presbyterian Church.

The next step in Brown’s plan is to partner with the YMCA to study the property and the area, to determine if the idea is feasible.

That study costs about $24,000, Brown said. He’d like the city to pay half of that cost, and is pushing city officials to keep an open mind as they study recreation in the city.

But the city currently has no budget to build a YMCA

“It’s an interesting idea,” said Sean Farrelly, who manages downtown redevelopment for the city, “but we really don’t have it on our plans and budget.”

Farrelly agreed the rec center would bring more people downtown, but said there are currently no plans at the city level to bring one to the area. The city’s Urban Renewal Plan for the downtown calls for the building of a performing arts center, but not a rec center.

City Manager Marty Wine said that the city may be interested in Brown’s plan. With no dedicated recreation department in Tigard, city officials have been studying what the Tigard’s role should be when it comes to recreation.

Those findings are expected to be completed next month, and depending on the answer, Wine said the city may be able to step forward and help.

“We are right on the cusp of being able to say, ‘This is what the city can do to provide recreation services,’” Wine said. “Is that a building? Maybe, maybe not.”

49,000 doors to go

Brown’s grassroots efforts have worked before. He spent years petitioning the city to build a park on Bull Mountain, which the city did in 2012.

“Neal is a force to be reckoned with,” Wine said. “He can mobilize interest and enthusiasm about many things.”

Even if the city doesn’t go along with Brown’s plan, Wine said, there’s nothing stopping the community from building a rec center of its own.

“For the YMCA to come to Tigard, that’s not something the city has to be involved in,” she said. “If the community wants to do the fundraising, that can all happen without any city involvement.”

But even Brown admits this plan is expensive. The property and building would cost taxpayers about $27.5 million, Brown estimates.

Brown hopes to put a one-time bond measure before voters in the next few years to purchase the property.

To gain public support, Brown has been meeting people and sharing his idea.

About 85 percent of the more than 1,200 people Brown has met with have signed his petition, he said.

Brown has at least one city plan on his side. The city’s 2009 Parks Master Plan states the city should establish a community center — preferably in the downtown — when the city reaches 50,000 residents, which it surpassed this year.

“This takes all of us,” Brown said. “The city is not just the employees, or the mayor or the council. It’s all of us. This has to pass the front-porch test. If you go to somebody’s home and say what you want to do with their money, and they say it’s good, then I think we should do it.”

In the meantime, Brown said, he has a lot more work to do.

“I’ve talked to 1,200, so I have 49,000 more people to talk to,” he said. “I will be knocking on your door. If you live in Tigard, I will be there.”

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