The Albany Revitalization Agency on Wednesday approved a resolution to enter into a contract with Portland firm Walker Macy for the design of the Water Avenue corridor not to exceed $2.36 million.
The 24-acre area that runs along the river from Water Avenue to Main Street is meant to be the capstone project of CARA, an urban renewal district that freezes property values within the district, As property values increase over time, the difference between the frozen and new values helps fund improvement projects.
To improve the waterfront, allow access to the river and remove blight, Economic Development Manager Seth Sherry previously has said costs for the total project could reach $20 million.
On Wednesday, the board agreed to contract with Walker Macy which would be responsible for developing a concept, engaging the public and eventually delivering plans that could be completed in phases.
Chelsea McCann of Walker Macy and Kalin Schmoldt, a senior program manager for public engagement firm JLA, attended Wednesday’s meeting to give a brief overview of its project expectations.
Citing similar waterfront projects the firm completed in Portland and Corvallis, McCann said Albany’s waterfront was enviable and fell in the mid-range in terms of acreage in other projects Walker Macy has completed.
“You have a great waterfront already,” McCann said, citing the city’s River Rhythms waterfront concert series and Monteith Riverpark. “It’s not our intention to reinvent the wheel but to build on the work that’s already been done.”
McCann went on to say that the project could be broken down into six parts: site analysis, concept development, concept refinement, completing technical documentation, obtaining permits and construction. The public, she said, would be invited to take part in the first three steps.
Schmoldt said that engagement would happen through online surveys, interviews with stakeholders, community events, advisory committees and social media outreach.
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Walker Macy will be paid monthly and if the agency board's board (which is the same as the City Council) opts not to continue through to the completion of the plan, it can cancel the contract. Walker Macy would receive payment through the month the council opted out of the contract.
Sherry reminded that the councilors that “not liking” the concept or no longer wanting to plan the development of the waterfront were not grounds to opt out of the contract. He said Walker Macy would have to fail to meet its deliverables.
“So we’re stuck with it?” Councilor Dick Olsen said. “We could not like it, but if they did it on time, too bad, they did it on time?”
Councilors Rich Kellum and Alex Johnson II said the chances of the council not liking the design concept were slim since the public would have input through the design process. Johnson also noted that the design would be refined after initial ideas were brought to the council.
Public perception was a point of contention during the Central Albany Revitalization Area advisory board meeting, which occurred immediately before the meeting of the ARA board. Member David Abarr said he didn’t think it was the right time to authorize the $2.36 million given the city’s financial outlook. (The advisory board, unlike the ARA board, does include members who are not on the City Council.)
The Albany City Council adopted a budget in June that saw cuts to nearly every department and conservative estimates place the city’s deficit at approximately $11 million during the next two-year budget cycle.
Member Mike Sykes said the board would face those criticisms regardless and Johnson said the longer the board waited to spend the money, the more the development of the waterfront would cost.
“If we wait, it’s going to be $3 million, $4 million,” he said. “We’ve been talking about finishing CARA and now we’re saying, let’s wait and not finish CARA.”
Olsen was the sole vote against the resolution.