For long enough, we've looked at that empty space in our downtown business district where the old Cameo Theater used to be. It's been about 15 years since the theater burned down, leaving an unnatural gap -- like a missing tooth -- in the 100 block of E. Jewett, and it's high time there was a plan to fix it.
And instead of waiting for a savior from out of town to ride in with a lot of money and handle it for us, local merchants, citizens, city officials, and community groups could come together to forge a fresh plan.
Recently, Blue Ackerman -- a downtown business owner -- came to a meeting of the White Salmon City Council and offered her vision of what that vacant lot could be. Her idea is a strong one: turn the weedy, fenced-off property into a jewel of a city park.
Ackerman sees a warm and friendly space with a winding staircase and a fountain, a place framed by attractive murals on the walls on either side of the site. She envisions having community events there, such as a farmer's market, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, and outdoor concerts. She believes there could be a war memorial on the site as well.
She also pointed out that the parcel of land offers an excellent view of Mount Hood, a view that would be lost if and when another building is erected there.
We know there are many hurdles involved with making Ackerman's vision a reality. For one, the property is currently owned by Kevin Kane of Portland. However, Kane's proposal to build a mixed use building -- with condos above and commercial/retails shops on the sidewalk level -- remains on hold. Kane is seeking partners with the financial resources to allow the building to go forward, but he indicated he would at least consider selling the property.
If Kane does decide to sell, the asking price is likely to be in the neighborhood of roughly $600,000. It's a daunting figure, but, showing a "can-do" spirit, two local business owners have already offered to put up $1,000 each, and certainly there would be other donations coming from a variety of sources if the idea takes hold.
A nice park in the heart of downtown would bring big benefits. It would encourage more pedestrian traffic. It would enliven the center of the downtown core. It would be likely to spur more local shopping. It certainly would be a fresh source of pride for the community.
Beyond that, there is a confluence of events that makes this a fortuitous time to pull a park plan together. First, it's White Salmon's centennial year, and the Centennial Committee has been looking for significant projects to invest in. This would be a grand one, and, if realized, would be powerful way to honor the city's 100th birthday.
Also, the White Salmon-Bingen Rotary recently came before the City Council, seeking permission to develop a new urban park. The plan the group proposed at the time -- converting a short stretch of Church Street into a landscaped greenspace -- was shelved due for a variety of concerns. Those concerns would not apply to the Jewett Street park idea, and although this proposal is certainly larger than Rotary's members originally had in mind, they could almost certainly be counted on to lend their support to a concept such as Ackerman has proposed. No doubt, a host of other groups would probably be happy to get behind this as well.
Pulling this off would take time, money, a lot of work, and probably a bit of good luck as well. But that's OK. It's better for our community to set its sights too high than settle for too little; better to risk being overly ambitious than to see a big challenge and just give up.
It's impressive that Blue Ackerman had the courage and energy to share her vision with members of the City Council and the public. She has a wonderful idea that hopefully can take root in our downtown.