For years, advocates for the Willamette Falls Legacy Project have worked on partnerships to promote development at the site.
On Thursday, supporters of the project brought another voice to the table.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited with project partners at the Museum of the Oregon Territory to voice his support for the Legacy Project.
At the foot of one of North America's largest waterfalls, the project's centerpiece is a riverside walkway that would connect the falls and downtown Oregon City. A private developer owns the adjacent abandoned paper mill and hopes to add shops, restaurants, offices and more to the area.
Project partners have already secured nearly $20 million in funding for the project.
More is needed.
Wyden didn't come with an oversized check dedicating federal money, but he did say he supports the project as a way to grow Oregon's economy.
"Willamette Falls is a gem poised to enter an era of rediscovery by visitors from near and far," Wyden said.
He said proposed free trade agreements would help build the global middle class, people who could become visitors to the falls.
"All these visitors that are going to come from around the world to see Oregon, and they're going to be a billion middle class people in the world in 2025," Wyden said. "That's part of trade, that's part of the economy, and they're going to want to come to the falls."
Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, who emceed Thursday's meeting, opened by talking about the falls' significance in history.
"This isn't the end of the Oregon Trail. This is the beginning of the West," Collette said. "This is where stuff started, not where stuff ended. It's been important to tribal people from time whenever, it was the first industrial site west of the Rockies, the site of the first power transmission – a long list of firsts, and that's why this is such an exciting place."
The panel included state Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, state Rep. Brent Barton, D-Oregon City, Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith, Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay and former U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore.
Much of the conversation centered around the Willamette Falls locks, which has been mothballed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since 2011 because of safety issues. Those issues would cost an estimated $5 million to address.
But panel members also expressed their support for the riverwalk, the proposed Willamette Falls National Heritage Area and the legacy project as a whole.
Noah Siegel, director of Metro's Regional Infrastructure Supporting our Economy initiative, said after the meeting that broad-based support for the project is important.
"The thing that's inspiring about the senator's remarks is the solution to the project is regional – it's not going to be found in one place," Siegel said. "We need an overall effort with all levels of government."