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South Corvallis urban renewal 08 (copy)

The Corvallis Auction Yard can be seen through a bay at the rear of the Ford New Holland farm implement business. The two properties could be used for a neighborhood town center if the South Corvallis urban renewal district passes.

Well, what do you know: Corvallis voters this week approved a measure to create an urban renewal district in South Corvallis.

And it wasn't a squeaker, either: It was a landslide, with nearly 85 percent of the voters who cast ballots in Tuesday's election voting "yes." Unofficial results showed 9,138 "yes" votes, as opposed to 1,623 "no" votes. Turnout was a little better than 33 percent, which we suppose is OK for an off-year special election, but still a little disappointing for a measure with this much potential import for all of Corvallis.

The results were particularly surprising when you consider what happened the last time Corvallis voters went to the polls to consider creating an urban renewal district, back in 2009: That measure, which would have created a downtown district, was rejected by a 55-45 percent margin and struggled from the start to persuade skeptical voters. (Corvallis' city charter requires a public vote on creating urban renewal districts, which is unusual among Oregon cities, and helps to explain why Corvallis had none even though dozens of these districts are in place throughout the mid-valley and the state.)

Tuesday's result showed that voters had no such skepticism about an urban renewal district in South Corvallis, and we have some theories as to why that might have been the case:

• Proponents were smart from the start in hitching the urban renewal proposal to an existing plan to develop the area, the South Corvallis Area Refinement Plan, which dates back to 1997 but hadn't made much headway. The pitch was that urban renewal and its funding mechanism, tax-increment financing, would provide the resources the long-gestating plan required.

• Proponents also spelled out specifically where the money raised by rising property tax values in the district would be spent, a big difference from the 2009 effort. There's a risk in that: This district is set to run for 30 years, and the needs 10 or 15 years from now could be different than they appear now. But putting such a strong focus on areas such as affordable housing and transportation safety — items that aren't likely to fade in importance — was smart, and gave voters a sense of where the money raised would be spent.

• The project benefited from the start from strong and focused local leadership, notably staff members at Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services, Ward 3 Councilor Hyatt Lytle and Vincent Adams, the chair of the Corvallis School Board, who was an outspoken advocate for the proposal. Kate Porsche, now the economic development manager for the city of Corvallis, brought to her post considerable experience with urban renewal districts in Albany and was a key player. 

• The proposal didn't appear to have much, if any, trouble dealing with any X factors: The 2009 proposal, for example, included what was then the Evanite site (now Hollingsworth & Vose), and the rumor at the time (completely unfounded) was that the urban renewal district potentially could have let Evanite off the hook for any remaining environmental cleanup costs. Nevertheless, it is not a coincidence that the new South Corvallis district does not include the Hollingsworth & Vose site.

• The needs for South Corvallis were (and have been) more apparent than the needs in downtown Corvallis were in 2009 — a message that might have been not-so-subtly communicated every time a voter drove by the site of the former Corvallis Auction Yard on Highway 99 West.

Whatever the reasons, we are gratified that Corvallis voters made the right decision in Tuesday's election.

It's traditional for editorials like this to end with lines about how the truly hard work begins now. And we don't want to discount the fact that much work remains.

But here's a case where plenty of hard work already has been tackled. It will provide a sturdy foundation as South Corvallis, and the rest of the city, begin a new era. (mm)

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Managing Editor