John Day projects update

John Day agricultural project leader Matt Manitsas leads a tour of John Day’s new commercial greenhouses during the Regional Economic Diversification Summit in John Day on June 11.

Two years ago, the city of John Day embarked on an ambitious project — to purchase and restore the Oregon Pine mill site to create a home for our new wastewater treatment plant. But it wasn’t just any old site. It was the gateway to our city. And it wasn’t just any old treatment plant. It was a reclaimed water facility that would allow us to harvest and reuse 100% of our solid and liquid waste, turning an environmental liability into an economic asset.

Oregon Pine was chosen as the site for the new treatment plant both for its buildable area north of the John Day River, which lies outside the 100-year flood plain, and for the potential of its large open space adjacent to the highway. As we got to know the property, we realized it had tremendous public benefit for riverfront recreation, parks, trails and greenway. The property could also be used to expand commercial and industrial opportunities in emerging industries like controlled environment agriculture.

After two years of planning, we are now ready to present our work. The John Day Innovation Gateway and Riverfront Recreation Area is an 83-acre site that integrates 20 new initiatives, including a hydroponic greenhouse, an open-air pavilion and community gathering space, and a system of parks, trails and greenways that connect our residents to the river and our neighbors to each other. It includes new street improvements to enhance our local street network and leaves room for future growth in mixed-use development, smart agriculture and other advanced industries.

The area plan was created by an integrated design team led by Walker Macy, a leading landscape architecture, urban design, planning and sustainability firm. The economic strategy that accompanies the plan was developed by EcoNorthwest, Oregon’s premier economic development consulting firm. Our teams have done an excellent job of bringing what’s great about John Day and Grant County to the forefront of our planning process — honoring our heritage as a natural resource community — while also creating viable opportunities for economic expansion and diversification into new frontiers.

I’ve had the opportunity to present these concepts at state and national conferences as they’ve developed. This year, I’ll be presenting the John Day Innovation Gateway concept plan at the Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies annual conference in Bend and at the 2019 Oregon Infrastructure Summit in Salem. We have also been featured in WIRED magazine and Oregon Business magazine articles for our recreation and economic development initiatives. People are talking about our community in positive ways because they believe in our potential and the work we are doing.

Innovation Gateway Ford Foundation

A conceptual map of the Innovation Gateway project in John Day made by landscape architectural consultant Walker Macy includes, left to right, a 150-170 room hotel, a water garden at the former sawmill building, a riverfront beach, a seasonal or permanent lake, a pavillion built from the former planer shed and a five-bay greenhouse complex.

The greenhouse at Oregon Pine

The first greenhouse at Oregon Pine is now fully operational. This 6,240-square-foot fully-automated facility is expandable to 10,400 square feet (with two additional bays). Advanced technology allows the automation of parameters such as temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, irrigation and fertilizer. While the greenhouse is initially operating with fresh, potable water from the city water system, the design includes a purple-pipe extension to the future wastewater treatment plant. Using reclaimed water, treated to a class A effluent for irrigation within the greenhouses, we are hoping to launch a new industry in John Day.

Hydroponics and controlled environment agriculture have been used for years by researchers, educators and commercial farmers. By combining these three most common users, we are doing our part to remediate a rural food desert and jump start our recovering economy. Our goal is to attract commercial-scale growers who can use the city’s reclaimed water supply, land and growing climate to expand their existing business. The greenhouse can also be used for research and development of new products and as an incubator or accelerator to help local growers establish their own hydroponics markets, all while delivering fresh, locally grown produce for our residents.

Community pavilion

The Oregon Pine mill site is in a prime location to be a gateway to the city and to provide a significant message about our identity and energy. When redeveloped, this site will be home to a myriad of community events, markets and connections to the river and downtown. The community pavilion project will provide a signature space for events and community markets and become an important marker for our family-oriented identity.

This former mill building will come to life daily with community arts, gatherings and family use. Its renovation will mark a significant step in our emphasis on livability and vitality and will help establish a new creative community space for residents.

The proposed use for the main shed structure visible from the highway is an open park pavilion that can be used for a variety of community events including farmers markets, performances, food festivals and large community gatherings. The building will be structurally stabilized with steel or timber cross bracing to meet current codes. A new slab floor will be provided with an artistic paving pattern and openings on both the north and south sides will be expanded to provide generous connections to the adjacent outdoor spaces. The trusses, columns and wood framing will be lightly sandblasted and sealed to retain the current appearance. Exterior materials will be repaired or replaced with similar industrial materials including corrugated siding and metal roofing, with skylights allowing natural light into the center of the building. Large openings will be created to capture views of the river, site and surrounding mountains while also providing views of the activities within.

Integrated park system and riverfront trails

We have begun the site preparation and construction of our new trail system along the north side of the river and are actively planning the expansion of this system to connect to our existing parks at the Kam Wah Chung heritage site, Grant County Fairgrounds and Seventh Street Complex.

We are also investing in two new riverfront parks at Davis Creek and north of Canton Street. The city of John Day, the John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District and local nonprofits have also worked together to build a new playground, splash pad and bike park at the east end of the Seventh Street Complex. Our hope is that these new amenities will benefit all our residents by creating more opportunities for outdoor recreation close to home.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our community advisory committees, city staff and city councilors who have spent months reviewing plans, providing critical feedback and sharing their values and priorities with our consultants. Their efforts have helped make this our plan for our community. We hope you’ll enjoy these projects as much as we have and take the time to share your voice with the city in our future planning efforts.

Nick Green is the John Day city manager.


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