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Business Owner Has Vision For Downtown Park

Council asked to consider taking over abandoned lot

A professional photographer has an image in her mind of what downtown White Salmon could be.

Blue Ackerman, owner of Ackerman Photography Studio in downtown White Salmon, recently asked the White Salmon City Council to consider finally taking what is now an abandoned lot and transforming it into something elegant and valuable.

Ackerman wants the city to consider purchasing the empty space between the former Creamery Building and Artisan's Jewelry and making a city park there -- a park that would feature a wonderful view of Mount Hood.

"I was just putting the idea out there," she said. "I sit across the street outside of Ground Cafe, and from the park bench you can see Mount Hood. It just came to me really strong one day. If a two-story building were there, the whole town is going to miss that view."

The vacant lot represents one of the few places where Mount Hood is clearly visible to the public from the downtown White Salmon area, Ackerman noted, adding that Mount Hood represents part of the identity of White Salmon.

"The site is the best view from White Salmon of Mount Hood," Ackerman said. "If a tall structure is built here, the town will miss a wonderful opportunity to bring the town together around its existing natural beauty."

In her vision, Ackerman sees extending the sidewalk above the lot to form a curve overhang with decorative railings; adding a set of curving stairways to reach the bottom the ground level of the site; adding murals on the walls of the two adjacent buildings; adding benches on the upper and lower levels; burying the power lines that now exist on the alley behind the south end of the commercial buildings and which mar the view of the mountain; and providing landscaping such as hanging flower baskets and trees.

She also sees the potential for a water fountain in the park.

The owner of the property, Dr. Kevin Kane of Portland, has proposed tearing down the Creamery Building and putting a new building there that would have condos on the upper floors and commercial shops on the street level.

"My understanding is, the business that was going there fell through. For tourists who come to town, the only place you can get a view of Mount Hood now is the Hi-School Pharmacy parking lot," Ackerman explained.

Ackerman suggested that a downtown park could also be a great spot for a farmer's market in the summers, for concerts, and as a site for the annual Christmas tree lighting, for example.

Ackerman was not alone in her enthusiasm.

Annette Thurber, who co-owns Artisan's Jewelry & Gallery with her husband Rick, said she supports the concept of a park there. Thurber added that she was willing to back up her support with cash.

"Rick and I will pledge the first $1,000," Thurber said. "Everybody could make a contribution."

Thurber suggested that if enough people contributed, a purchase could possibly be made.

White Salmon City Council member John Mayo said he welcomed Ackerman's idea.

"I honor and appreciate it when people generate ideas for the good of the town. We really need that," Mayo said. "But the property owner would have to be on board with it. The city is not in position to comment on property that has not been offered up."

On Monday, Kane said his proposed building project was on hold, but still very much alive.

"I need to find someone with more financial reserves than I have to approve a construction loan for the project," Kane explained. "I've been asking the Realtors and others in town if anyone wants to become a financial partner, or take the project over as a means of going forward. And I've floated the project to some developers out of Portland."

Kane added that he regretted that work on the building has not gotten under way.

"I sympathize -- that lot has been empty for 15 years, and the Creamery Building has been defunct for nearly a year," he said.

Kane noted that the Creamery Building is poised for demolition, and building plans for the lot have been approved by the city. Nevertheless, Kane said he would consider selling the property -- the lot and the Creamery Building combined -- for a price in the "low to middle $600,000 range."

Council member Timi Keene said the idea was great, but the details involved were daunting.

"This idea has been considered previously by the city's parks committee as it would be a fantastic park site for the city and downtown core. Unfortunately, there are significant problems relating to accessibility, engineering concerns and cost," Keene explained. "While not insurmountable if private, grant, or foundation money was available, these are major obstacles. It would be wonderful if business and community groups could provide seed money toward such a project to help us get started."

Ackerman pointed out that the location makes it a natural site for a park, and said the hurdles would not deter her.

"It could really unify the town," she explained. "It seems like the whole town could wrap themselves around that. The energy of lots of people gets things going."

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