Progress Continues on Willamette Falls Riverwalk, Leaders Say

Amid a buyout, a pandemic and a devastating fire, project leaders say progress continues to be made on planning for the future riverwalk at Willamette Falls.

Willamette Falls Legacy Project staff have continued working throughout this year with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which completed its purchase of the former Blue Heron paper mill property in August 2019, to evaluate how to phase and scale the riverwalk project in a way that can meet funding constraints, public commitments and the development needs of the site.

Unlike previous owners, Legacy Project leaders say the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is “motivated to redevelop the site,” which is culturally significant to their tribe’s heritage and lies at the heart of their ancestral lands.

“We’re really excited about having a partner that’s engaged in the project,” Brian Moore, Willamette Falls Legacy Project manager, told Grand Ronde officials at an Oct. 29 partners group meeting.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how [the] vision comes together and figuring out how we can integrate the work that we’ve done with all of the work that you’ve done.”

Groundbreaking on the riverwalk, which was previously expected to occur in 2020, has shifted while officials evaluate an “alternative riverwalk experience.” Legacy Project officials maintain they are still committed to collaborating with the Grand Ronde tribe and carrying out the community’s vision for the project.

One hold-up is that the alternative approach proposed by Grand Ronde exceeds the $12 million available to fund the first phase of the project. Metro is in negotiations with Grand Ronde to address the approach, cost, development needs and funding restrictions for the project.

Estimates for the original riverwalk plan had also far exceeded $12 million — with estimates ranging from $23 million to $33 million depending on the scope and scale of the first phase of the project.

Officials say planning has also been impacted this year by the recall of Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay, who was officially removed from office at the end of November, and who had been a longtime member of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project partners group.

Willamette Falls Trust is the nonprofit organization charged with philanthropy and community engagement for the future riverwalk. The Trust’s board, campaign cabinet and staff are continuing to connect with community members who can make transformational gifts to catalyze the project.

The Trust is also driving multi-tribal community engagement that will inform the design and future programming of the Willamette Falls Riverwalk.

The Trust is building relationships not only with Grand Ronde, but also the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the urban Indigenous community of Portland.

“The investment in building these relationships is essential,” said Gerard Rodriguez, director of Tribal engagement for Willamette Falls Trust. “Willamette Falls is a place of cultural, historical and ongoing significance to each of these communities, whose engagement is fundamental.

“The effort will reflect long-standing relationships to this sacred place, and ultimately result in meaningful input across various aspects of the project.”

The Trust says it hopes to share a framework for future site activities in spring 2021.

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