California developer makes bid on historic Oregon City mill site

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OREGON CITY, Ore. — A California company has signed a purchase agreement for a historic mill at the base of Willamette Falls, the site of what’s regarded as the state’s first industrial development.

Eclipse Development Group of Irvine, Calif., says it plans a mix of office, retail and residential uses for the 23-acre Blue Heron mill site but hasn’t released details, the Oregonian reported.

The deal isn’t final. A bankruptcy judge will rule on the purchase agreement July 11, and after that, other bidders could make offers.

Eclipse Development Group is the first buyer to make an offer since the paper mill closed in early 2011 amid bankruptcy proceedings, putting 175 employees out of work.

The purchase is contingent on further investigation of engineering, environmental and traffic issues, said bankruptcy trustee Peter McKittrick.

The deal will pay off secured creditors and provide some money to mill employees, he said.

The site, with dramatic views of 40-foot Willamette Falls, was long a fishing and gathering place for Pacific Northwest tribes.

In 1829, three decades before Oregon became a state, British fur trader John McLoughlin built a sawmill at the site. That was followed by several lumber, flour and grist mills.

Elected officials and advocates for historic preservation are expected to press for saving and reusing as many of the mill buildings as possible.

Eclipse President Doug Gray said he envisions a pedestrian-friendly extension of downtown that highlights natural features such as the river and the falls.

The project will need anchor tenants, but they won’t be huge retailers, he said.

The site isn’t big enough, big stores are a bad fit, and it would not be the best use of the land, Gray said. A Target or Toys R Us is “not even a consideration,” he said.

“There so much we’re trying to get our hands around. Is there a chance to utilize much, if any, of the existing structures for adaptive reuse? I really don’t know until we get in to a lot of engineering and planning,” Gray said. “Maybe we can save some of the facades, maybe we can utilize some whole buildings.”