Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

Heritage deserves new lease

The City of Keizer and the Keizer Heritage Foundation are in talks for a renewed lease for the land the Keizer Heritage Center sits upon.

After years of the Center being on the back burner, the City is looking to rewrite the lease agreement, mostly due to a simple word:  public.

Mayor Lore Christopher has said repeatedly that the Heritage Center is one of the biggest recipients of public money and the public should expect to have more access to the building. She has also said repeatedly that the Center should be the home for the Keizer Heritage Museum and for the Keizer Community Library.

Those who want to impose tough conditions on the foundation in exchange for a new lease should come forward and publicly state what the foundation has done wrong or not done at all to warrant a long-term lease. With few historic buildings in Keizer, the city and the council should be thankful that the Heritage Center is one project they needn’t worry about.

The Keizer Heritage Center is open to the public.  It is currently home to the Heritage Museum, the Community Library, the Keizer Art Association, Keizer Young Life and the Keizer Chamber of Commerce and the public can rent the room on the second floor for meetings and other events such as parties and weddings.

Since the mid-1990s the Foundation has owned and managed the Center successfully.  In 1995, the old Keizer School was saved from certain demolition by a spirited community campaign to raise money to buy the building, move it, and refurbish it to the condition it is in today. The project was completed with a quarter million dollar grant from the Urban Renewal District.

Back then the committed members of Keizer Heritage Foundation felt they could turn an abandoned historic building into a center for the community. Others were not so certain; in fact some in the community expected the entire venture to fail.  Due to the stewardship of the Foundation the Keizer Heritage Center has fulfilled its mission—it is a place of culture, education and history.

Earlier this year the Keizer Heritage Foundation Task Force prepared a report detailing its twenty-year vision for the Center.  The report calls for the Center to be open more hours each day.  A newly invigorated board led by President JoAnne Beilke is committing itself to assuring the Heritage Museum has room to expand and show all of its artifacts. The mayor has contented that the Community Library must have space in the Center as part of a lease proposal.  The Heritage Foundation operates the museum; it does not operate the library. The library wants more space but there is no space for both the library and the museum to expand.

The Community Library is proposing that the city lease 2,000 square feet in the Civic Center for its operations. This a good way for the city to show its commitment to a library.  The city shouldn’t demand what tenants the private Heritage Foundation should have.

According to the existing agreement, if the lease is not extended the city would take over ownership and operation of the Center. That option is not a winner for anyone involved.  If the city took over the Center it would take on expenses it does not have the means to cover.

The Keizer Heritage Foundation can point to 15 years of good stewardship, fostering art, literacy, education and history. It is a job they have done very well.

If councilors disagree, they should state their reasons clearly and publicly. Veiled threats and behind-closed-doors discussions do not serve the public, but can disillusion the very volunteers the city can’t afford to do without.