As part of its waterfront redevelopment efforts, the City of St. Helens has been working to provide the community with increased riverfront access and public amenities along the St. Helens waterfront. The Central Waterfront property offers the opportunity to connect the City’s downtown Riverfront District to the north and the St. Helens Industrial Business Park property to the south.
The Central Waterfront Property is approximately 50 acres and the current location of the City’s 39-acre wastewater treatment plant facility. The facility’s secondary lagoon was built in 1972 as a partnership with Boise Cascade. Today, the facility is oversized, expensive to maintain, and is not the best use of a large stretch of Columbia River waterfront property. The 50-year-old lagoon also creates environmental permitting challenges due to its age and outdated technology.
The City of St. Helens is currently exploring options to repurpose part or all of the wastewater treatment plant facility. By doing so, the City will be able to:
one. Provide cohesive connection along the St. Helens waterfront, linking the historic St. Helens Riverfront District to the City’s Industrial Business Park, McCormick Park, and residential areas. This will unite two miles of waterfront property for additional public amenities.
two. Improve the St. Helens environment and health of the Columbia River by creating a properly sized wastewater treatment plant facility that uses modern technology to meet today’s environmental standards.
3. Promote the economic health of St. Helens by opening prime waterfront land for possible marine and industrial development, additional public amenities, and easier connection to Riverfront District businesses.
Four. Help keep utility costs in check by creating an appropriately sized wastewater treatment facility with modern technological efficiencies.
The City of St. Helens was recently notified that it will receive almost $1.4 million in state and federal funding to assist with the Central Waterfront Project. The Oregon Legislature approved House Bill 5202 which allocates $984,000 to the City of St. Helens for the Central Waterfront redevelopment efforts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also approved $387,000 through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for the City of St. Helens to study wastewater treatment resiliency.
Community input, including the creation of a Central Waterfront Advisory Committee, will be an early step in the process. With community feedback, the City of St. Helens will work with professional consultants, the Oregon Business Development Department, and the Oregon Office of Emergency Management to develop scopes of work for how the state and federal funding will be spent.
Work will focus on technical studies, assessments of the site, and research into site repurposing.
If repurposing the wastewater facility site can be done safely, St. Helens will be in a unique position to create a waterfront that attracts development, improves resiliency, generates tax revenue, creates jobs, and builds a community asset for residents and visitors alike. Examples of similar projects in the Pacific Northwest include:
Astoria Sports Complex, Astoria – A former municipal landfill that was transformed into a 17-acre athletic field complex serving the Astoria School District and entire community.
Bridgeport Village, Tigard and Tualatin – A former landfill that was capped and redeveloped as a major retail and office development in Tigard and Tualatin. The project was a public-private partnership that resulted in $8.5 million in off-site improvements, $14 million paid to the county for the land, and generated hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in annual taxes and economic activity.
Cully Park, Northwest Portland – A remediated former landfill that used a public-private partnership to create a community garden, off-leash dog park, play area, trails, fitness course, habitat restoration, kids’ soccer field, and Native Gathering Garden.
Oregon State University’s Cascades Campus, Bend – An inactive mine and a construction-debris landfill along with adjacent properties were used to build a 128-acre college campus for up to 5,000 students.
Gas Works Park, Seattle – A former manufacturing gas plant and tar refinery on the shores of Lake Union that was transformed into a 20-acre park. Puget Sound Energy, the City of Seattle, and the Washington State Department of Ecology worked together to remove some of the contamination and cap the site with soil. The park, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, now features relics from the old plant repurposed as art or play structures, walking/biking trails, natural areas, picnic tables, and a picnic shelter. It’s one of Seattle’s most beloved parks, hosting summer concerts and community events and recognizing the area’s industrial past while reclaiming it for the public.
St. Helens Waterfront Redevelopment Project Background
Industry was the heart of the St. Helens waterfront and its economy for about 150 years up until the remaining mills closed in the early 2000s. Approximately two miles of desirable waterfront property became vacant, remaining fenced off from community access under the continued ownership of private industries.
In 2015, the City of St. Helens acquired approximately 228 acres of this waterfront property. Since then, the City has invested extensive time and resources into reclaiming the St. Helens waterfront so that it can serve the community in new ways.
Known as the Waterfront Redevelopment Project, the City divided the property into three key project areas, each with distinct characteristics for future development:
one. Riverfront Property – A 24-acre property that is the former location of the Boise plywood veneer plant. This area is located at the south end of the City’s historic Riverfront District. Its entrance is just south of the current terminus of South 1st Street, Strand Street, and Columbia View Park. The City of St. Helens is currently working on two major projects on the Riverfront Property: the Riverwalk Project and the Streets and Utilities Extension Project.
The Riverwalk Project will expand Columbia View Park, design and construct a new stage for the park’s amphitheater, and design and begin partial construction of a community river walk which will extend along the banks of the Columbia River from Columbia View Park to Plymouth Street and Nob Hill Nature Park. The Streets and Utilities Extension Project is focused on creating design documents, securing permits, and constructing street and utility extensions for South 1st Street and Strand Street through the property. This will include creating safe pedestrian connections, inviting intersection treatments, ample on-street parking, landscaped seating, interpretive and wayfinding signage, and more visible crosswalks.
Both the Riverwalk Project and Streets and Utilities Extension Project are anticipated to begin construction in 2022. The City of St. Helens also recently received two proposals with a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for private developers interested in constructing mixed-use development on the property . The St. Helens City Council is currently in the process of developer selection. For more information about the RFQ developer selection, visit the project website.
two. Central Waterfront Property – This 50-acre area sits immediately south of the Riverfront Property and unites the Riverfront Property with the St. Helens Industrial Business Park. It is currently home to the City’s 39-acre wastewater treatment facility. The City is evaluating options for repurposing a portion or all of the site to create expanded community access to the St. Helens waterfront, provide additional public amenities, and increase opportunity for economic development.
Repurposing the site will also improve water quality and infrastructure resiliency. The City of St. Helens was recently awarded nearly $1.4 million in federal and state funding to continue studying the site for potential redevelopment.
3. St. Helens Industrial Business Park – This site is a 204-acre industrial property that is the southernmost area of the St. Helens Waterfront Redevelopment Project. It is the former location of the Boise Cascade White Paper Mill. The site is one of the largest remaining parcels of industrial employment lands in our region. This portion of the Waterfront Redevelopment Project is focused on attracting industrial and commercial businesses to St. Helens.
This will increase the number of living-wage jobs in the community, increase the tax base, and spur economic development. In 2020, the City completed a Parcelization Plan and Infrastructure Funding Plan to provide a phased framework for dividing the large property into smaller properties to support multiple industrial users. The City is currently working on public infrastructure design for phase one to bring necessary infrastructure and support new industrial growth.
To find out more about the St. Helens Waterfront Redevelopment Project and to watch a video overview of the project, visit the city’s website at www.sthelensoregon.gov/waterfront.