What will be Oregon City’s next “big idea” to inspire elected officials and spur development downtown?

Imagine this: A wagon-wheel structure the size of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, the iconic symbol of westward expansion. Located at the other end of the Oregon Trail, Oregon City’s wheel would symbolize the successful completion of a difficult 19th century journey.

OC’s vintage 130-foot Municipal Elevator would gain a rival when the city’s elevator on the gigantic wagon wheel at Abernethy Green takes visitors more than 600 feet up to incomparable views of Mount Hood and a much larger portion of the Willamette Valley.

It’s a dream that’s not out of the question for Mayor Doug Neeley, who’s been trying for years to spur a redevelopment of the area near the Rossman Landfill.

“My hope is that we are going to soon see some development at the landfill, and the negotiations could include building some public art at the end of the Oregon Trail site,” Neeley said. “The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center has been a real challenge for us, but we’ve managed to get it back open this summer.”

Despite the mayor’s interest, this wagon-wheel project is the brainchild of Bruce Hamilton, an 87-year-old retired unincorporated Milwaukie resident. Hamilton likes that a tall structure on the site could be seen most of the way down Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard or Interstate 205 from Portland through Milwaukie and Gladstone.

“If large enough, it would be visible from miles around, including (from) a railroad, several major highways and parts of several cities, plus all air traffic, and would thus draw attention to the site,” he said.

Hamilton’s vision for Oregon City would rival the tallest current national monument, completed in 1965. The city of St. Louis, with 75 percent federal funding, took more than two years to build its arch for $13 million — that’s nearly $100 million in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation. Part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, its 900 tons of stainless steel stand as another world record.

Hamilton thinks that governments including Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the state would have “solid reasons to contribute” to the massive undertaking, along with foundations and individuals. He proposes that a fee on the new elevator pay for upkeep and maintenance of the site.

“Since the wagon wheel would be a part of one of the top Oregon historical sites, as well as a tourist attraction, funding for construction would come from several sources,” he said.

Neeley would rather see a plan that pays back taxpayer dollars for the construction through a larger revenue stream.

“I wouldn’t support any public investment if it would amount to a subsidy, but if it were a significant attraction, then that wouldn’t be as much of an issue,” he said.

by: FILE PHOTO - Abernethy Green, located next to the the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 1726 Washington St., Oregon City, currently has wagons that both lack covering and wheels.Good thing for OC?

Hamilton originally thought his idea would fit the Willamette Falls site being redeveloped by Oregon City in partnership with a Blue Heron Paper Co. bankruptcy trustee. Hamilton showed his initial plans to Neeley, who suggested Abernethy Green as a proposed site instead.

“The difficulty I think with having what could look like a huge Ferris wheel at the falls would be that it would take away from the natural wonder,” Neeley said.

Hamilton appreciated the mayor’s input on the idea.

“Maintaining the history and memories of the Oregon Trail and the westward movement is of great importance,” he said. “After all, it was one of the greatest human migrations of all time.”

Recalling the surprising turnaround of Carnegie Library plans last month, leaders will remain skeptical at least until an architect produces drawings for the wagon wheel. Neeley is waiting for the wagon wheel proposal to take shape before taking a position in favor or against the project.

“Anything that is a gateway concept would have to have a public process even if it were done by a developer, and Oregon City has more than one gateway,” he said.

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