Oregon City’s Urban Renewal Commission restarted negotiations on the latest Rossman Landfill shopping-mall proposal as California-based Donahue Schriber Realty Group announced Wednesday that it was ready to proceed on “roughly 600,000 square feet” of retail space next to Home Depot and Interstate 205.

Retail developers noted they’ll be looking to city staff for advice on how to deal with Measure 3-407, which passed by a more than 70 percent margin last November to force public votes on tax-increment-financed projects in Oregon City. Donahue Schriber had approached the URC earlier last year for an estimated $23 million contribution from urban-renewal fund to make the landfill site developable.

Previous landfill developers from CenterCal had proposed in 2011 to front about $17 million, to be paid back by the city’s urban-renewal fund once it leased 80 percent of the property, but Donahue Schriber is asking for more money up-front from the city. Donahue Schriber started talking with the Parker family in July of 2012 and finalized an option to purchase that September. However, with leases outstanding on the property that includes a driving range, it wasn’t that simple, and at one point it looked impossibly complicated to strike a deal on a property that inspired the 2011 recall of a commissioner and the 2012 urban-renewal voting measure.

Jack Steinhauer, director of acquisitions and development, was “proud” to announce this month that as of July of this year, Donahue Schriber finalized agreements with all five parties and are moving forward with the city on a disposition and development agreement.

With more than 1,000 jobs, Donahue Schriber estimates that the new shopping mall would employ the equivalent of 3 percent of Oregon City’s population.

Two other potential sticking points became clear during the meeting on Oct. 2. When Donahue Schriber first approached the URC on Oct. 30, 2012, it was still trying to lure Cabela’s sports superstore, which has since decided to locate in Tualatin instead. Mayor Doug Neeley said he wasn’t sure if Donahue Schriber would be able to attract a “major player” such as Cabela’s to generate excitement about the project.

Steinhauer also indicated that Donahue Schriber has determined that “it would take more than” $23 million to make the site buildable, which prompted clarifying questions from URC commissioners. Steinhauer responded that it was too “early in the process” to give an updated amount, or to say whether Donahue Schriber or the city would have to make up for the difference.

Design considerations

Donahue Schriber and commissioners seemed eye-to-eye on architectural and cultural priorities for the shopping-mall design. Steinhauer promised to try to mimic Oregon City’s architecture, based on community input, to pull more shoppers off of Interstate 205 and to funnel them into downtown. He also showed URC members some of the other projects totaling more than 12 million square feet that include plazas featuring live music.

“They’re not just shopping centers,” he said. “We have people places…we want people to congregate—this is part of their neighborhood.”

Neeley then took the opportunity to give the developers a history lesson on how settlers stole from Native Americans to create Abernethy Green, where covered-wagon owners to met to discuss land claims in the 1840s. Much of Abernethy Green eventually became the Rossman Landfill.

“A theme connected to that history would be very palatable to the people who live in this area,” Neeley said.

Steinhauer responded that the Oregon Trail theme was a “good idea” and promised that Donahue Schriber’s designs would connect to shopping mall to the next-door End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

Commissioner Rocky Smith indicated that he would only vote for a design that is “amazing.” However, he thought that Donahue Schriber had the potential to live up to the standard being set on the other end of downtown, where planners are working with citizens to redevelop the bankrupt Blue Heron paper mill next to Willamette Falls.

“It gives us an opportunity to show that Oregon City is so unique,” Smith said. “I haven’t seen (that type of) plan come to us yet, so that’s going to be the challenge.”

The meeting ended with four Donahue Schriber representatives thanking the URC for thinking they might be up for the task. “We don’t just collect the pay checks — we’re not just the landlord,” Steinhauer said in pointing to an 84 percent lease-renewal rate that he saw as speaking to strong relationships with tenants.

“We know they’re a lot of hurdles,” he said, “but we’re excited for the opportunity.”

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