With construction of the new Oregon State Hospital completed, state officials have turned their attention to the remainder of the campus. Officials are in the preliminary stages of determining what will become of the 47-acre Oregon State Hospital North Campus along Center Street NE.And the results? A parking lot for the Blind School, stalled development at Fairview, and a "glacial" pace for new businesses at Mill Creek. No home runs, and altogether not very promising.
“You rarely get a shot like this. It could make a really big difference in the area, or it could be a big disaster,” said Darrin Brightman, a planner with the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.
Several times, Salem has been down a similar path. The Oregon School for the Blind, the former Fairview Training Center site and the Mill Creek property once were entirely state-owned real estate.
All of the properties offered great potential for Salem. City officials were eager to see tax-exempt state property converted to other uses, which would generate tax revenue. Real estate developers and neighbors weighed in with their suggestions.
Apparently, even McMenamins have turned down a project - their own institutional rehabs like Edgefield and the Grand Lodge have apparently seemed simpler and more profitable than one here.
Not surprisingly transportation figures in:
Street access is another constraint for some uses. Center Street NE simply can’t carry enough cars to support a large-scale retail center, Brightman said.Why would we want a "large scale retail center" here?! We don't need Lancaster Mall 2 or Keizer Station 2! What about neighborhood center mixed use?!
Interestingly, even former Mayor Janet Taylor seemed to be thinking along the lines of residential mixed use and smaller scale commercial development. It seems like an early 20th century streetcar commercial district to support a walkable neighborhood would be perfect here! That could also include greenspace and park and open areas.
A Contested Project
But how to configure greenspace at an institution? What is the proper role of it, especially in the balance between private and public? Discomfort with the nature of a public space is at the center of an appeal recently filed on the cremains memorial (past notes here).
on the 11th the Hearing Officer will deliberate on the memorial's design.
The staff report isn't out yet, but there seem to be two objections, only one of which, however, is providing grounds for the appeal.
In the appeal, Virginia Green and David Skilton claim that the design fails to meet national "standards for rehabilitation."
Interpretation has been in the news. You can't have missed the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution and parts of the Affordable Care Act. Nearer to home, Salemites have recently struggled with interpretations of vacation criteria, of innovative master plans, and broad goals in transportation system plans. The interpretive act and ground-level policy are deeply entwined with each other.
I have a hunch that Green and Skilton will prevail on the merits. The criteria for historic buildings seem to be written narrowly and require that the building be retained and/or restored to something close to its original condition. The plan for the memorial substantially alters one of the walls, and the extent of this alteration and interpretation of "substantially" will be at issue.
|David Maisel, Library of Dust|
In addition to this, Green has objected to the "touristic display" of cremains in the proposed memorial. Have the remains of those who have suffered and died - to put it baldly, have and will these remains in the proposed design become fodder for aesthetic delight? So here's where the public nature of the grounds and memorial is at issue. The photos of David Maisel are beautiful. Is putting the canisters on display a violation of the dead? Is there too much art and design, even recreation, and not enough memory and mourning?
|Petco Park, Wikipedia|
To be useful, buildings must live in the present and into the future, and sometimes preservation codes seem to want to retain a static, unchanging past. It seems possible that a good design would not meet the strict preservation criteria.
|Detail, Isenheim Altarpiece|
Still, these are not obvious matters and one cannot be certain. They are interesting and important questions because they get at core and final notions about life and death and meaning and value.