Plans to redevelop the old Boise Cascade property on downtown Salem's riverfront have, thankfully, fallen through.
Mountain West Investment's attempted land grab of the Carousel parking lot in public Riverfront Park for a private access road to an apartment complex on the west side of the railroad tracks was met with intense opposition from concerned citizens.
And somehow the development team missed an obvious fact: conversion of the park land to a private use would require National Park Service approval, since federal funds were used to build Riverfront Park. The 6(f) conversion application would take two years to process, or thereabouts.
But actually that new vision is close to what Mountain West Investment originally planned for their Pringle Square development. I was reminded of this when I came across an October 18, 2009 front page story in the Statesman Journal by Michael Rose (who is still reporting on development plans).
It describes a Phase 1 building plan that is entirely on the east side of the railroad tracks, focused mostly on renovating the concrete shell of the "south warehouse" that continues to uglifiy Salem's downtown riverfront. Here's an enlargement of the illustration in the story that shows the 2009 plan for the east side of the tracks.
This is a much better Phase 1 plan than the 2013 version: apartments looming over Riverfront Park on the west side of the railroad tracks, and a nursing home on the east side. The 2009 Statesman Journal story describes what was envisioned by Mountain West Investment.
A path winding along the banks of Pringle Creek has long been in the plans for the Boise Cascade site's proposed redevelopment. The path is intended to become a signature feature of the downtown Salem development, as well as a connection to pedestrian and bike trails.
...The path would have a plaza with room for food cart vendors, as well as outdoor seating for a restaurant. It would run under the railroad bridge at the Boise site, as well as under Commercial Street SE, and could become another way to reach Riverfront Park.
The labels in the site plan image above are difficult to read, even when enlarged. But "outdoor dining" clearly is shown in the bottom right hand corner, indicating the area along the creekside path west of Commercial Street.
And "grotto" marks the area in Pringle Creek just upstream from where the railroad tracks cross the creek.
Outdoor dining and a grotto. Much more appealing than the uninspiring, uncreative plan for this section of Pringle Square that Mountain West Investment had settled on by 2013. See below.
Even worse, the area east of the railroad tracks wasn't going to be developed right away. So the concrete shell that was planned to eventually become a four story apartment building would remain ugly rubble for years. Instead, the ill-fated Phase 1 development plan centered on apartments on the west side of the railroad tracks and a nursing home on the east side.
As noted in a previous post, the apartments (top right) were planned to butt up right against, or very close to, the Riverfront Park boundary. This would have drastically degraded the recreational vibe of the south end of the Park.
Not to mention a diminished Carousel parking lot with the private apartment access road going right by. Bad plan.
Mountain West Investment had it mostly right back in 2009. The mixed-use vision for the area along Pringle Creek on the east side of the railroad tracks was in line with the Urban Land Institute report that was prepared by nationally recognized experts.
Salem now has a chance to go back in time.
Nothing prevents Pringle Square from being developed in accord with the original plan of Mountain West Investment. Renovate the south warehouse, which everyone considers to be the biggest eyesore. Make Pringle Creek a locus for dining, both indoor and outdoor.
I love the idea of food carts that Rose mentioned in his 2009 story. Food carts have become hugely popular in Portland. Having them along Pringle Creek so close to downtown would draw people to dining along the riverfront.
Make the property west of the railroad tracks part of Riverfront Park.
Originally Mountain West Investment didn't plan to develop this land until a Phase 2, or maybe Phase 3. Now it should be Phase O, never. Almost all of the public opposition to Pringle Square centered on the Carousel parking lot access road to apartments on the west side of the railroad tracks.
The developers should put apartments where they originally planned them to be: on the east side of the tracks, as part of the renovated south warehouse building.
Salemians want the old Boise Cascade property to be redeveloped into an enticing, exciting mixed-use area. They also want their beloved Riverfront Park protected, and, I'm confident, expanded. There's a win-win for Mountain West Investment and the citizens of Salem here.
Back in 2009, the country was in a severe recession. Almost a depression. Real estate values had tanked. Yet the Pringle Square development team came up with a mixed-use plan that envisioned apartments in a renovated south warehouse building, and a cool outdoor/indoor dining area along Pringle Creek.
If that plan made sense back then, it makes even more sense now, given a much-improved economy. Interest rates are still quite low. Interest in properly developing the old Boise Cascade property is high.
Let's get it done.