Although the Innovation Gateway project in John Day could become an attraction for visitors while benefiting local residents, the business plan for the city’s commercial greenhouses might require more work.

That was one of many takeaways from a special meeting of the John Day City Council held at the Grant County Regional Airport and streamed live on March 12.

Destination development

Ken Pirie and Michael Zilis of the Walker Macy landscape architect firm in Portland presented several conceptual designs for the 83-acre city-owned riverfront project area, much of it brownfield properties.

Project goals set from the beginning include creating a thriving destination, attracting investment and jobs, honoring John Day’s identity and character, promoting a connected and healthy community, creating opportunities for hiking and biking, providing public access to the John Day River and Canyon Creek, constructing the Seventh Street extension as a parkway with pocket parking, opening up the north side of the city for development and diverting traffic from the Bridge Street river crossing to Patterson Bridge Road.

A proposed main loop trail along the river and a network of other trails would connect the Innovation Gateway complex at the former Oregon Pine mill site to the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, the new Hill Family City Park, a trail system at the Davis Creek Park, downtown John Day, the Seventh Street Complex and the Grant County Fairgrounds.

Many of the designs are conceptual at this point. Potential features could include a botanical garden in the area near the yellow sawmill building that periodically floods, a new campground at the site of the existing wastewater treatment plant once it’s removed, parking and open space for an event site at the former planer building and even beaches constructed at several locations along the river.

Greenhouse business

Matt Craigie, a project manager at ECONorthwest in Portland, outlined some of the study topics for a comprehensive economic development strategy. The CEDS will be a roadmap of actions to achieve economic goals, he said, a playbook of actions and tactics for leaders to use for the next five years.

The three study areas ECONorthwest and other consultants will look at for the CEDS are commercial greenhouses, housing stock and marketing and branding for tourism, he said.

Export-oriented hydroponic businesses are complex but possible, Craigie said. They have a high failure rate, but that risk could be reduced. High costs typically include labor and energy, but in the case of John Day, the nearest export markets are three hours away, which drives up transportation costs, he said.

In addition to addressing those issues, the consultants will look at how to market produce and whether Oregon State University can use the future greenhouses for research and education. The greenhouses now under construction at the Innovation Gateway project site will produce vegetables for local consumption.

Craigie said the local housing supply is constrained to some degree by floodplain regulations and steep hills, but more important is the need for developing expensive infrastructure to serve new building lots. The consultants will continue to study those issues, he said.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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