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Oregon City hosts Gov. Kate Brown, who pledges support for Willamette Falls riverwalk funding

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signaled her support for a $10 million request to build the riverwalk portion of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project in a visit to Oregon City on Friday.

FILE PHOTO - Building a public walkway to Willamette Falls, the country's second-largest waterfall, is expected to spur hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment to redevelop the former Blue Heron paper mill site.State Rep. Brent Barton (D-Oregon City) requested the funding on behalf of a coalition of regional elected officials and community supporters that include local cities, Clackamas County and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.

RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Gov. Kate Brown, promising to support the Oregon City region's $10 million request to build a public Riverwalk to Willamette Falls, thanks coalition president Alice Norris and State Rep. Brent Barton for their advocacy.Brown said the coalition’s request was “a great illustration” of what she calls “the Oregon way,” which she defined as a project that combines economic opportunity with a deep respect for preservation of historic significance and natural beauty. Native Americans’ sacred fishing and trading site gave way to lumber, flour, woolen and paper mills throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Willamette Falls was the final destination for many American pioneers due to its location at the end of the Oregon Trail.

Now located at the end of Main Street in Oregon City, the site is currently a cluster of empty industrial buildings, the remnants of the Blue Heron paper mill, which declared bankruptcy in 2011.

At the May 29 event attended by hundreds of local dignitaries, Brown announced the selection of the design team for the next step in the redevelopment next to the country’s second-largest waterfall.

The team of Mayer/Reed, Snøhetta and DIALOG were chosen after an extensive national proposal process conducted this spring, and will now begin designing the Riverwalk to reconnect Main Street to the Blue Heron site that, as Oregon City Commission President Carol Pauli pointed out, could once again contain a barbershop, hotels and a opera house.

“This is the first step in rediscovering one of Oregon’s most beautiful and significant places,” said Metro Councilor Carlotta Colette. “We are going to allow people to see Willamette Falls in a way they haven’t been able to experience it for more than a century and create housing, jobs and public spaces at the same time.”

Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay expressed his confidence that the “extraordinary team” would “help create a world-class riverwalk to Willamette Falls” that will also drive economic investment in housing, employment and recreation throughout the surrounding area.

The team is expected to take about 18 months to develop a plan for construction to open public access to Willamette Falls to the public for the first time in more than 100 years. The project in 2013 secured $5 million in state lottery funding, which leveraged $6 million in private and public investment partners for the first phase of construction. Total cost estimates are still being completed.

“Clackamas County is a proud partner and a firm believer in this project’s future potential for our county and for our region,” said Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith. “Through this collaborative partnership, great progress has been made toward transforming this site and capitalizing on its historic, cultural and economic significance.”

The selection process invited design teams to demonstrate their approach to give the public access to the breathtaking Willamette Falls and the adjacent industrial site.

“We believe that the site and the history it holds is a sublime, one-of-a-kind landscape that should not be upstaged by the hand of any designer,” said Michelle Delk, Snøhetta’s director of landscape architecture. “We are inspired by the complex strata of the site and its deep cultural history. By protecting, reusing, reducing and adding, we will integrate and amplify the site’s strata into the riverwalk.”

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project is a collaboration of four public-sector partners with the site’s landowner, Falls Legacy LLC.

Long an important tribal gathering spot and fishing location, Willamette Falls also was the site of the country’s first long-distance transmission of electricity in 1889, when electricity generated by the falls was sent several miles away to Portland.

“The magnetism of Willamette Falls is the genesis and spirit of place. We will provide an experiential glimpse of the fall’s power, one that transports visitors deep into history and highlights its elemental qualities” said Carol Mayer-Reed, principal of Mayer/Reed.

The final design for the new riverwalk will be the result of an extensive public engagement process. For more information on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, visit rediscoverthefalls.org.

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