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Visitors center won’t get funded by urban renewal bucks

The Keizer Urban Renewal Agency voted not to fund a joint visitors-transit facility at Keizer Station.

The split “no” vote came after earlier in the evening the Keizer Urban Renewal Board unanimously recommended to fund neither construction nor design. The board is tasked with making recommendations to the agency.

The vote was two – Mayor Lore Christopher and Councilor Cathy Clark – in favor, with Councilors David McKane, Mark Caillier, Jim Taylor and Brandon Smith voting no. Councilor Joe Egli was absent.

Councilors had the option of funding construction of a joint transit-visitors building up to $500,000; voting to fund design but not construction; allocating up to $30,000 to assist the Keizer Chamber of Commerce in opening its own visitors center, or funding nothing.

Merely participating in design was one of the recommendations made by city staffers, who in a memorandum warned the agency – which consists of the Keizer City Council’s members – that outstanding local improvement district debt at Keizer Station could come out of city coffers in the future. Developer Chuck Sides is more than $800,000 behind in local improvement district assessment payments.

Christine Dieker, the chamber’s executive director, said such a center would point visitors toward River Road businesses.

“When somebody stops off the road and they say maybe I want something to eat and it’s not pizza – do you have a good Italian restaurant?” Dieker said. “That’s where we’re able to say, guess what, Caruso’s is right off River Road.”

Allen Prell, president of the Gubser Neighborhood Association, said he “cannot think of anything more valuable to this community. Information is power.”

Dennis Koho, a former Keizer mayor, chamber president and chair of the Salem-Keizer Transit Board, said Keizer doesn’t have enough hotels and restaurants to justify the investment.

“Keizer is a residential community,” Koho said. “…That’s why most of us live here: To raise families, to recreate, to maybe retire and some of us are foolish enough to try to open a business here. I don’t want to see that fundamental characteristic change.”

Rick Hammerquist, who founded the Keizer Tennis Association, said a visitors center wouldn’t help him promote tournaments.

Earlier in the evening the Keizer Urban Renewal Board – a group that advises the agency on urban renewal spending – unanimously recommended no funding for either the joint transit-visitors center nor a Chamber-operated visitors center in its new digs at Keizer Station. The partnership would be with Salem-Keizer Transit, which owns land at Keizer Station and plans to build a hub there.
The board heard from Sherrie Gottfried, sales manager at the Keizer Renaissance Inn, who said the impact of tourism in Keizer is palpable.

“I am here tonight to tell you please think long and hard about this,” Gottfried said. “… We need visitors services.”

Richard Walsh, a former city councilor, said the visitors center is vital to promoting more youth sports tournaments in the city, citing the city’s visioning process that concluded the community has potential to earn more revenue off sporting events.

But Rick Hammerquist questioned how a visitors center would “administer a tournament … I don’t think you need a visitor’s center to do that.”

Walsh said the visitors center is a risk, but said Keizer Station wouldn’t have happened had councilors been timid.

“It’s easy to stop those steps, usually with fear, saying we can’t afford it, we’re getting tired, whatever,” Walsh said. “… We need to keep taking those steps.”

Board member Robert Hendricks was concerned about the possibility dollars could be needed to fund the aforementioned possible liability due to the Keizer Station Local Improvement District.

“Until that can be (resolved) I would be pretty reluctant here,” Hendricks said.

Carol Doerfler testified that much smaller towns like Carlton and Dallas have public swimming pools, but Keizer does not. She said the money could be better spent on youth activities or facilities.

“And I’m thinking, we have half a million dollars,” Doerfler said. “Why in the world couldn’t we have a sparkling blue pool for our kids?”

Board Chair Greg McLeod said he’s concerned about urban renewal dollars having already been diverted for projects like adding land to Keizer Rapids Park and building the Keizer Civic Center, at the expense of River Road beautification projects.

“I find it really, really hard to do this,” McLeod said.