A bid for the Blue Heron mill site in Oregon City has one of the region's biggest proponents of redevelopment at the site "over the top upbeat" about the project's future.
Portland-based Langley Development is the latest bidder for the Blue Heron site adjacent to Willamette Falls. Langley bid $4.9 million for the site, which is held by a bankruptcy court trustee.
Langley is the first local company to express serious interest in Blue Heron, which housed a paper mill until 2010 and has been an industrial site for 170 years.
The company is best known for its Lloyd District office buildings. But Liam Thornton, the managing director of investment and development for the company, said Langley is trying to diversify its holdings and projects.
Even for Langley, though, this is uncharted territory. The Blue Heron site is a layer cake of challenges, not just in terms of its unique brownfield/downtown/riverfront redevelopment, but also quite literally from the buildings constructed on top of one another above the site's basalt bedrock.
"We've been having discussions with partners that have brownfield-type development expertise, understand long duration projects and have an aptitude for extended public planning processes and public-private-type partnerships," Thornton said. "We're local, we're familiar with the site and we're in the evaluation stage."
Langley can likely take its time evaluating the project. It has two years to complete its deal with the bankruptcy court, barring anyone else outbidding Langley for the site. Langley's bid is about 20 percent higher than the previous bid, a 2013 offer from Eclipse Development of California. That bid eventually fell through.
While developers do their due diligence, the public continues to weigh in on the site proposal. About 80 people attended a meeting last week to go over the site's publicly-led master planning process. A recent Opt In survey on the site solicited more than 1,500 responses.
Because the site is zoned for heavy industry, Oregon City, Clackamas County, the state and Metro are reviewing the site's zoning and asking for public feedback on its future.
Thornton said Langley is committed to the master planning process.
"We have some ideas of how we want to develop the site," he said, without disclosing what those plans are. "We want to develop them in context with the effort that's going on right now, so that whatever we do present is consistent with the direction it's heading."
That local knowledge has Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, whose district includes Oregon City, excited about the prospects for redevelopment.
"This opens the opportunity for other partners to come in, who didn't feel like it was a safe project to do on their own," Collette said. "But with an owner in place and the government partnership, other players might come in. There might be others who would want to buy one building or lease one of the buildings and do something.
"It just makes the whole project more manageable, and gives us a big developer with an anchor that's not just passive shopping, but an anchor that's active and relates back to Oregon City and the Oregon City values," she said.