Story written by Saundra Sorenson. Originally publish on the Lake Oswego Review website 10/19/2015.
It was only four shovelfuls of dirt, tossed into a waiting skid-steer loader. But for the honorary construction workers who gathered in the southeast parking lot of the Wizer Block this morning, the act was momentous.
Mayor Kent Studebaker, Evergreen Group Principal Patrick Kessi, Lease Crutcher Lewis CEO Bart Ricketts and property owner Gene Wizer wielded gold shovels Monday for the official groundbreaking on Block 137, where a $93 million, 290,000-square-foot development will become the first mixed-use project to be built in downtown Lake Oswego in 13 years.
When it is completed in late 2017, the development at the corner of First Street and A Avenue will include 200 residential units, almost 43,000 square feet of commercial space and parking for 430 cars, of which 135 spaces will be for public parking.
For Wizer, the occasion was “bittersweet.”
“My first thought 19-and-a-half years ago was to remodel the building,” Wizer told The Review. “I had three or four architects (draft) designs for remodeling. But my immediate family said, ‘We’re not going to do a remodel; we want to do a redevelopment.’ Then I met Pat (Kessi) five years ago — he’s such a great guy.”
Wizer will retain an ownership stake in the development, along with the Kessi’s PHK Development Inc. and an as-yet-unnamed equity partner.
Kessi called the groundbreaking a “tremendous milestone” for the project.
“Over the last three years, we’ve definitely collaborated with the community,” Kessi said — a statement that elicited chuckles from some in the crowd of more than 200 city leaders, business owners, Chamber of Commerce officials and neighbors. The project’s contentious approval process saw the city’s Development Review Commission reject the proposal, only to be contradicted by the City Council on appeal.
A trio of community groups — the Evergreen Neighborhood Association, Save Our Village and LO 138 LLC, which represented Lake View Village — formalized their complaints against what they claimed was an outsized project that was incompatible with city development code, appealing first to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals, then to the state’s Court of Appeals and most recently, to the state Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce by mid-November whether it will review or reject the case.
The legal wrangling did not deter the project’s three largest stakeholders, who are expected to sign closing documents with the city early this week. Kessi said the pending decision will have no bearing on the last of the project’s demolition permits, which he expects to pull Tuesday.
Ricketts, a Lake Oswego resident, promised the crowd that his construction crews would prove to be “good neighbors.”
“We have a good logistics plan,” he said. “We’re able to communicate with the community at large, and have people feel like they know what’s going on in their downtown.”
Studebaker was joined at Monday’s ceremony by most members of the City Council. Keith Dickerson, the Chamber’s executive director, and Chamber board president Blake Zoglman also watched as the first shovels of dirt were tossed.
“We’re very excited,” Studebaker said. “We’re excited for the city, we’re excited for the merchants, and we’re excited for all the new residents that will be coming in to enjoy our wonderful city.”
By Saundra Sorenson