For the past six years, the former Blue Heron Paper Company property on Oregon City's waterfront has been more
"than just a vacant slice of land.
In the eyes of Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay and others, the empty space represented a significant loss — when Blue Heron left, it took 175 jobs along with it. It didn't take long, however, for Oregon City, Metro and other entities to envision significant new opportunities at the 22-acre site. Soon, the Willamette Falls Legacy Project was born — and with it a publicly accessible Riverwalk pathway that would be the first facet of the project and a significant influence on the current redevelopment planning being done on West Linn's side of the river.
On a sunny morning in late May, Holladay, Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette and representatives from the Snøhetta architecture firm presented the final designs for the Riverwalk a part of a tour of the site. Construction is expected to begin in 2018.
"This has been a tremendous loss to the community, and after six years we have the opportunity for the next generation of economic employment and community prosperity on these 22 acres. The first phase of the Riverwalk will not only provide access to the river and a view of the falls, but also provide a boost in value to the site, to ready it for private investment and development,' Holladay said.
Collette said that the Riverwalk was designed with the overall project's "four core values" in mind.
"We want to provide access to the falls — that's a no brainer there, everyone wants to get to the falls," Collette said. "We want to redevelop this site. We want to make sure the habitat here is healthy, and we can actually restore a lot of habitat along the shoreline. And we wanted to be able to tell the amazing story of the site."
Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Riverwalk design is what project leaders call the "public yard" with amphitheater-type seating and pristine views of the river.
"We envision this kind of as a theater to the river, where you might have steps going down to the river, open up some more of the habitat that's in there and have people be able to experience the river right there," Collette said. "There might be picnic areas, a place for concerts. This is the public yard, this is our Pioneer Square, this is the place where we envision hundreds of people gathering on a beautiful day and enjoying the river, the falls up ahead and just this incredible space."
Serving as a backdrop to the public yard will be several of the existing historic paper mill buildings, which project leaders hope to preserve as much as possible during the redevelopment process.
The hope for one old building is to eventually install a "vertical playground" with a slide and other apparatuses.
"We don't have the funding to do it right now, but we do have space," Collette said. "And it's one of those things that we think will attract people year-round."
Further upriver, the Riverwalk will feature a direct view of the falls as well as another gathering space on a redesigned clarifier tank.
"(The clarifier) is essentially reimagined as an island that offers another kind of public gathering space within the Riverwalk," said Michelle Delk, a partner at Snøhetta. "The clarifier is another opportunity to bring a different type of habitat, more of an upland oak savanna and prairie habitat where people could come and picnic and spend time.
"When the water is high, the water wraps around it and you really feel like you're out in the river on this island."
In total, the Riverwalk path and open space is expected to cost about $60 million. The Willamette Falls Legacy Project partners — Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon — have come up with about $25 million in funding so far.
Once construction drawings are finalized and land use approvals are in hand, a groundbreaking is expected in 2018 and phase one of the Riverwalk should be completed by 2022.