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A center-city remake

ULI report

ULI report

Salem gets discounted too much: It’s a good small city, with a stronger-than-usually-given-credit-for downtown and a bunch of other assets apart from its state capitol role. It has a number of parks too, but one aspect of the city that jumps out as unrealized potential is its Willamette River waterfront, the bisector (toward the west side) of the city.

There’s parkland there, sure, but not a great deal of it. (Boiseans would look at the river frontage and act superior.) What’s there is good, but there are key blockages. And one of the most important of those, just southwest of downtown and across the street from city hall and the main library, is an old industrial plant, the Boise Cascade (now Boise) wood factory. Very old – BC and the companies that preceded it have owned the property and used it for wood production since 1862. The buildings that occupy 13 acres of its property most recently have been used for packaging and distribution; about 100 people work there. It’s not wasteland, but it is something of an eyesore, and it diminishes the surrounding downtown core area.

Turns out, we learn in an announcement today, a win-win is possible here: A change in location for the Boise company (with the company evidently working very cooperatively on it) and a new redevelopment of the area to bring out some of its underlying potential. An important chunk of Salem may be transformed as a result.

The city and Boise (the company) started discussions about this in 2005, and the next year the Urban Land Institute conducted a study on possible and the best uses for the industrial land. That seems to have formed a basis for talks between the city, the Boise company, developers and others. Today, the groups announced a plan for the Boise company to move elsewhere in the city and sell the land to a development firm, which will turn the riverfront property into something resembling what was proposed by the Urban Land Institute.

Mayor Janet Taylor described “possibilities for new housing, retail, commercial spaces and public areas along the waterfront.” A stream called Pringle Creek, which flows into the Willamette at the site, has been doing that underground for many decades; it will be brought into the sunlight. New paths and trails will be developed.

Probably some celebration in Salem today. And reasonably so.

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