Leaders of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project unveiled their vision Wednesday for redeveloping a former paper mill that’s blocking up-close views of one of the biggest waterfalls in the country.
The plans include creating public access to Willamette Falls along a riverwalk that winds through the skeleton of the old Blue Heron paper mill.
The final concept, developed by a coalition that includes the state, Metro, Clackamas County and Oregon City, has taken years of planning and gathering public input. It will be available for a public viewing on Saturday.
Last year, Metro officials and Oregon City leaders decided to reject a proposal to develop a whitewater park on the site.
Metro Councillor Carlotta Colette led a media tour of the public portion of the redevelopment, which includes clearing out sections of dilapidated mill structures to create public spaces overlooking the river and Willamette Falls.
The riverwalk is designed to spur private development nearby while also improving ecological habitat along the river, according to Colette.
“There were 2,000 jobs on this site when the mill closed,” she said. “We want to restore jobs here. We want to make sure the habitat is healthy, and we can actually restore a lot of habitat along the shoreline.”
Willamette Falls is the second-largest waterfall in the country by volume. Collette said the riverwalk is designed to showcase the area’s Native American and industrial history while inviting public access for the first time in 150 years.
“This waterfall is really one of the most powerful places for Native Americans in the whole region, and it has also been the birthplace of industry,” she said. “This is really where the business of the West Coast started.”
Michelle Delk, a partner with Snohtta, an architectural design company that worked on the redevelopment plans, said her goal was to carefully enhance the structures that already exist on the site.
“The design is not about scraping this place clean and starting from a clean slate but strategically adding to provide opportunities for people to explore this place,” she said.
The $60 million project is scheduled to break ground in 2018 with the goal of completing the first phase of redevelopment by 2022.
The private owner of the 22-acres site, Falls Legacy LLC, is working on its own redevelopment plans. Portland General Electric owns the dam on the site. The site includes more than 50 buildings, at least five of which will be reused in redevelopment plans. Others may be demolished.