Urban Design

Behold the New Plan for Oregon City's Riverwalk

Just one minor detail: is there enough money to build it?

By Rachel Wilson June 8, 2017

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According to Snøhetta's official June 3 concept reveal: “The [Oregon City riverwalk] design treats the whole site as a single landscape, with a network of promenades and lofted pathways that lace through the physical strata of the site, immersing visitors in a tactile experience that celebrates the changing water level, the feeling of the spray on your skin, and the roar and presence of the falls.”

Image: Snohetta

For more than 25 years, Norwegian design firm Snøhetta has designed notable public and cultural projects around the world, from the reconstructed Times Square to Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Commemorative Arch in Cape Town. The firm has also worked here in Oregon: commissioned to conceptualize downtown Portland's now-stalled (suspended?) James Beard Public Market. But a project in nearby Oregon City, also long in the works, now seems to be moving forward.

On Wednesday, May 31, Snøhetta and coordinators of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project released a formal plan, detailed to the public on June 3, to reconnect Oregon City with its 22-acre waterfront and the voluminous waterfall just beyond. For the past 150 years, the beauty of Willamette Falls has been hidden from the public by paper mills; in 2011, the Blue Heron, the last operating mill, went bankrupt—sold to new private owners. And public agencies began dreaming: of a riverwalk that would finally let the public soak in the magic of those falls.

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Snøhetta's design aims for “an experiential riverwalk that foretells a story of renewed economy, environmental sensitivity, and historic importance.”

Image: Snohetta

In the six years since, several of those public agencies—Metro along with the City of Oregon City, Clackamas County, and the State of Oregon—have formalized this dream via a partnership called the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. The newly unveiled riverwalk outlines the first phase of a multi-phase project—conceived with Snøhetta, along with design firms Mayer/Reed and Dialog. (The project, which admittedly looks stunning, has been fully described in recent design blogs including Arch Daily and The Architect's Newspaper.) 

“The phases are planned as funding sources become available, but the first phases of the project—the overall design—is all funded,” says project manager Brian Moore. “$25 million has been committed to this project so far, for developing the overall design and building the first phase of the project.” 

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The riverwalk stage of the project is projected for completion in 2022.

Image: Snohetta

Of course, back in 2015, we reported that the project's first phase was estimated at more than $25 million. And where will the money come from to see this ambitious project through phases 2 and beyond? Right now, Moore is focused on taking one step at a time.

“There’s a nonprofit friends group that is working to raise private funds to also support future development of the riverwalk,” explains Moore. “They are currently working on developing a $10 million campaign to support this and future phases of the project.”

The riverwalk stage of the project is projected for completion in 2022, with no details yet released for what the project's future phases might entail—barring (fingers crossed) a surprise benefactor willing to cough up some serious money.   

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The project is yet to break ground.

Image: Snohetta

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