UPDATE: Rockwood 10 years later: millions wasted, the former Fred Meyer site remains a vacant lot

The former Rockwood Fred Meyer store (since demolished) property continues to languish after years of failed urban development and millions wasted. Once a thriving middle-class community, the area has fallen into ruin - riddled with crime and poverty
Rockwood Fred Meyer (demolished),
185th & SE Stark. Click to enlarge.

Once the 'heart' of a thriving middle-class community, Rockwood continues to remain on life-support

UPDATE: Jan 2013

Ask anyone in East County to describe Rockwood and you're likely to hear them say "slum", "trouble", or simply "stay away".

From everything to nothing
Not long ago -- or so it seems, Rockwood was a vibrant community, serving the regional needs of folks living in unincorporated East Multnomah County between the cities of Portland and Gresham. Whatever your need, Rockwood had it: grocerers, retailers, furniture, fast-food & restaurants, services, medical and more. Rockwood was buzzing with activity.

Those days are gone along with businesses like Fred Meyer, GI Joes, Girrods, Star Furniture, Rockwood Lanes, Fred's Travelrama, the laundromat, the urgent-care, Burger King, KFC, Dairy Queen, Winchell's, Skippers, and countless others.

Ignored for years by local government, Rockwood has been in decline for decades. Crime-infested, and poverty-sticken. Today Rockwood is fighting for its very survival.

Urban renewal failure
In 2003 Gresham voters approved a 20-year urban renewal district bond measure to rebuild Rockwood after Fred Meyer closed due to rising crime and continued theft. The Gresham Redevelopment Commission (GRDC) was formed and a plan to revive Rockwood created. The GRDC's aspirational plan for development of the Cultural Marketplace can be found here.

UPDATE: With just 10 years remaining on that urban renewal district bond measure, millions have been spents and still there is no viable plan to revive the area. What will become of the Rockwood Town Center? Three years ago in December 2009, University of Oregon graduate students presented six new designs for Rockwood. The "Live & Work" concept with special attention to pedestrian friendly access and a robust local economy, proposed a mix of low-rise buildings; residential, commercial, and mixed-use with street-level businesses and up to 482 residential units above. Plans included space for restaurants, retail, offices, community center, and more.

In 2005 the new urban renewal commission bought the 6.5 acre Fred Meyer property at SE 185th & Stark St for $8.1 million and tore down the old building for what would become a "cultural marketplace" with homes and businesses to anchor the new Rockwood Town Center.

UPDATE: Across Stark Street the county built the new $19.6 million East County Courts, opening in April 2012. The new facility occupies the sites where the old bowling alley, laundormat and KFC once stood.

The future for Rockwood looked bright. Urban renewal appeared to be working and was expected to generate $92 million in new taxes.

Unfortunately things changed.

Today there's still no cultural marketplace, no Town Center - only empty gravel lots.

Escalating costs and mismanagement
Ballooning costs from $18.65 million to $42.9 million forced a scaled-down justice center to relocate to downtown Gresham. Failure to attract a commercial anchor tenant has required multiple redesigns of the proposed marketplace - costing millions in urban renewal funds and lost tax revenue.

After 15 months, a proposal by Williams & Dame Development (the most recent developer hired to oversee the project) to locate a YMCA on the marketplace site was rejected May 5, 2009 by Gresham’s redevelopment commission citing a non-profit would not pay property taxes necessary to fund other urban renewal projects. Shortly thereafter the commission's relationship with Williams & Dame ended.

What's next?
The GRDC wants to hold a retreat to reshape its vision for redeveloping the old Fred Meyer site. For now it's discussing interim uses for the property while waiting for the economy to turn around.

An idea to create a temporary ethnic farmers market this summer at the marketplace site is on hold, but urban renewal commissioners are considering a proposal to build soccer fields on the expanse of gravel to cover-up the blight.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, five ten years of the 20-year urban renewal bond have past and the only changes made in Rockwood have been for the worse.

For now, Rockwood will continue to "wait and see" what's next for its future.

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