Self-reliant and independent, resilient and pragmatic, a family-focused community with rural values — those are some of the key words that will guide initial planning for the Innovation Gateway project in John Day.

Representatives from the Walker Macy landscape architecture firm in Portland took feedback from city staff and two city advisory committees and at an open house on Jan. 8.

The 83-acre project will integrate several city infrastructure needs with a long-term vision to promote economic development.

Key elements include developing the former Oregon Pine mill site with a new sewer treatment plant, greenhouses that will meet community demand for garden vegetables, along with a farmers market and community gathering place.

Riverfront trails will connect the mill site to the Seventh Street Complex, a possible future aquatics facility, the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site and downtown shops and restaurants.

John Day City Manager Nick Green characterized the project as a unique opportunity that involved 18 months of work piecing together brownfield sites and undeveloped lands across the city. The overall goal is to “keep what is great about our community and enhance it,” he said.

According to the city, the guiding principles for the Innovation Gateway project should include creating a destination for visitors, attracting investment and jobs, honoring John Day’s identity and character, promoting community, creating opportunities for walking and biking, restoring public access to the John Day River and Canyon Creek, supporting innovation in conservation and efficiently using public resources and land.

Funded by a state Transportation Growth Management grant, Walker Macy will work closely with Interfluve, a river and restoration firm that has been involved in fish habitat projects on the North Fork of the John Day River, designer Aaron Maples said. Much of the Innovation Gateway project area was impacted by historical dredge mining, he said.

Kirsten Kibler of JLA Public Involvement said members of the two advisory committees talked about how locals learned to get around the riverfront after legacy trails had weathered away, where children put in and took out inner tubes along the river and what the river is like at high flow.

Among the comments made during the open house at Grant County Regional Airport were the need to improve riverfront trails with signage and the need for a community meeting place on the valley floor rather than on top of a hill at the airport.

Walker Macy’s work overlaps an economic development study by ECONorthwest and marketing work by Bell + Funk, which is funded by federal and state grants.

Walker Macy will hold an online open house March 12 and then join ECONorthwest and the city’s advisory committees for a regional summit May 14. Walker Macy will present a final report in August.

The city asks residents to complete an online survey to provide input for the Innovation Gateway project at surveymonkey.com/r/XXL62RV. More information about the project is available on the city website.

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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