The Mirror Pond Ad-Hoc Committee unveiled its Mirror Pond and Downtown Redevelopment Concept Friday afternoon to a packed room in the Bend Park and Rec District office. The proposal goes beyond addressing the failing Newport Dam and the local landmark that is Mirror Pond, and offers a vision for redeveloping the downtown area—both to better connect downtown with the Deschutes River, but also to invite the private sector development the plan relies on for funding.
Bend Park and Recreation Department Director Don Horton said that in surveys, respondents were evenly split between two options—keeping the dam (and saving Mirror Pond) and letting the Deschutes River run free.
"How do you bring those two polarizing opinions together?" Horton prefaced. He went on to explain that the second choice of both factions was a hybrid approach that replaces the failing dam with a cascading rock structure that allows safe fish passage while maintaining Mirror Pond. The proposal also includes plans to build out portions of the river bank where sediment frequently gets deposited. "If 20 years ago someone is sitting here tring to figure out how to get rid of the sediment we really haven’t done our job."
Funding for the project would come from private sector development made possible through the sale or leasing of City and Park-owned riverfront properties. Horton said that the goal is to avoid seeking any public funding via tax or bond measures.
"We anticipate that going through the public process, there could be some changes to this," Horton said. "Given that this is our crown jewel in Bend, we need to make sure that we do it right."
The proposal in its current form would include removing the Brooks Alley parking in an effort to make downtown more of a riverfront experience. Where that parking would go is still up in the air.
"One of the most beautiful areas in the entire city and what do we do? We park cars there," says ad hoc committee members Victor Chudowsky. "If we use that area to expand the retail area of downtown, it would also improve access to the river."
Of those who spoke during the public comment period, none expressed objection to the overall concept. Rather, most were excited about both the hybrid nature of the project and the possibilities for urban renewal.
"This is an amazingly developed concept plan," said Jayson Bowerman, a member
of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance who is active in the development of the Colorado Dam project. "Most excitingly to me seems to be opportunity for economic redevelopment. I think the neatest thing with removal of the dam and powerhouse is reclaiming what is the heart of downtown for people walk and enjoy. I think we can now look toward the concept at the Colorado safe passage for clues as to how that might function."
Chuck Arnold, of the Downtown Bend Business Association, was likewise excited about the potential downtown business growth, but concerned about parking.
"We’re very excited about this concept and really looking forward to seeing it go forward," Arnold said. "I really would like to see a phasing approach to this from downstream to upstream. I think the biggest challenge is going to be taking surface parking away....We’re grown 47 percent in last 13 years of downtown leasable space. We’re going to need more parking, that definitely needs to be addressed."
There will be plenty of opportunities for the committee to hear concerns and make adjustments with a series of open house meetings through the end of the year. Exact dates and times are TBA, but you can stay apprised of the details on the Mirror Pond website