City digs into Streetscape

By: Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor
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By Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor It was a dirt- and gravel-filled lot Wednesday. But come the end of the year, it will be Auburn’s new town square. Officials gathered at the future site of the Auburn Endurance Capital Plaza Wednesday morning to celebrate the start of the city’s Streetscape project. Streetscape is a $20 million, 10-phase project that will revitalize High Street and Lincoln Way from Old Town through Downtown Auburn. Phase 1 will see the transformation of the High Street/Lincoln Way intersection into an endurance-sports-themed plaza with public artwork, planter boxes, benches, commemorative pavers, a fire pit, living Christmas tree and more. Gary Ransom stopped by the groundbreaking Wednesday to check out the design for the plaza. He was especially excited at the prospects of a fire pit and sidewalk dining. “This will be a great improvement. It’s a way to make Auburn more livable and more interesting for people,” said Ransom, a retiree. “It’s great to start doing (the Streetscape project) here because it’s what everybody’s going to see first.” The start of construction last week was a few years in the making, as many city officials, organizations, volunteers and non-profit groups helped put the pieces in place for Auburn’s makeover. The Auburn Urban Development Authority, which is comprised of Auburn city councilmembers, had to expand the redevelopment area to include Highway 49 and Nevada Street. A 17-member committee sifted through local design firms before selecting Foothill Associates. Then the city had to regain control of a portion of its own street from Caltrans. With the help of Assemblyman Ted Gaines, a bill was passed in the state Legislature last year giving Auburn jurisdiction over the part of Highway 49 that runs through town from City Hall to Elm Avenue. “Now we will not have to ask ‘Mother may I?’ to get something done,” said Mayor Mike Holmes in his address to the crowd during Wednesday’s ceremonial groundbreaking. Instead of moving cars quickly through town, city officials hope the renovated intersection will draw in more visitors. “We really want them to slow down and take a look at the city and maybe shop for a while,” said Councilman Keith Nesbitt. Work during the first week of the project has focused on demolition and milling out the asphalt on the surface of the street, said Sean Cook, president of Cook Engineering, which was awarded the contract for the project. Work is expected to take six months. “There’s a lot more interest now that (residents) are seeing what’s happening,” Cook said. Although the $2.2 million Phase 1 price tag has some grumbling, the project is not a general fund expenditure. Rather, money comes from redirecting a portion of property taxes in the redevelopment area to a specialized fund. Cook Engineering is also providing a bit of local stimulus by employing 13 workers, some of whom were unemployed, Holmes said. One week into construction, business owners Dick and Adele Wise of Wildflower gift shop said a lack of parking has given some customers a difficult time. Having a front-row seat to the project has also meant a lot of noise, too. “Customers have been wishing us luck. They hope we survive this,” said Adele Wise. “We say, of course we will.” Anne Thompson didn’t enjoy having to walk a little farther in the 100-degree heat to get to the store Wednesday. “But I’m looking forward to the end result, so I guess I’ll muddle through,” she said while picking out a birthday card for her 91-year-old mother. “I think this end of town needs a jump start. So little is going on, it seems to me something like this will bring more life to this end of town. It’s worth the money and the pain.” The Journal’s Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at ---------- Streetscape update City officials don’t anticipate any changes to the traffic pattern in the Streetscape construction zone through July 21, according to a press release from the city. Cook Engineering will continue demolition work in front of Wells Fargo Bank and in front of the businesses between Lewis Street and Linden Avenue. Trenching for irrigation and utilities will begin in the work area. Night-time construction work will begin at 7 p.m. July 21 through 6 a.m. July 22 to facilitate waterline work. If unforeseen circumstances arise then night work will continue from 7 p.m. July 22 to 6 a.m. July 23. Residents should remember that businesses are open during construction and there is public parking on Lincoln Way at the Elder’s Bus Station and near Depoe Bay. ~ Staff report