Bend officials may want to end the city’s role as developer of a 1,500-acre mixed-use project on the north end of the city.
City councilors and the Juniper Ridge Management Board met on Tuesday with a consultant to examine what the city could do with the mostly undeveloped land.
Councilors expressed a variety of opinions at the meeting, but Assistant City Manager Jon Skidmore said the message he took away was the board and City Council want a “managed exit strategy” from the city’s current role as master developer of Juniper Ridge.
Skidmore said the consultant will focus mostly on a scenario that would allow the city to make all of the remaining undeveloped land available to a master developer. But the developer would be required to successfully complete a first phase before the city would sell additional land.
“This would allow the city to benefit from increases in the appraised/market value of each successive phase, and would not obligate the city to sell all or most of the land if the master developer’s performance is not satisfactory,” according to a document prepared by consultant The PFM Group and subcontractor ECONorthwest.
Plans for the mixed-use development, on land currently owned by the city near Cooley Road and Northeast 18th Street call for a business park, hundreds of homes, shopping areas, parks, trails and a university. However, developer interest in Juniper Ridge evaporated during the recession, and only three companies have located there so far.
The city initially had a public-private partnership to develop the property with a master developer, Juniper Ridge Partners, but the parties could not reach a formal development agreement.
In 2008, Bend officials agreed to pay Juniper Ridge Partners $2.5 million in return for full ownership of the project master plan and an agreement not to sue the city.
The city now has a nearly $30,000 contract with The PFM Group, a national firm that helps governments with financial management, to advise the city on options for Juniper Ridge.
Councilors Scott Ramsay and Victor Chudowsky said the city should not be selecting the specific businesses that can locate at Juniper Ridge. Chudowsky said the plan for Juniper Ridge has included an entertainment center, trails and a man-made pond “where nature never intended a pond.”
Chudowsky said that several years ago, city officials and others were so confident they could attract businesses to the development that the discussion at a Bend Chamber of Commerce event focused on picking the industries the community wanted, such as aerospace.
“Well, what do we have?” Chudowsky said. “We have the tire company and we have (biopesticide company) Suterra, which fit into none of those categories.”
Mayor Jim Clinton said this is a situation where the private sector cannot achieve the type of benefits the city could realize by making the development attractive to specific industries. For example, Clinton said, some people criticized the city for not landing one of the data centers that located in Prineville.
Clinton said data centers are not the type of business Bend should solicit for Juniper Ridge because they create few jobs for the large amount of land they require, “and only exist in a particular place because of the enormous public subsidies.”
Juniper Ridge board member Patricia Moss said that if the city wants to get out of the development business, which she personally supports, the city should establish a timeline to sell parcels and aggressively pursue it.
Roger Lee, executive director of the nonprofit Economic Development for Central Oregon, said the city should not rush to unload all of the property at Juniper Ridge. Lee said there is a limited amount of industrial property available for development in Bend, so the community needs the industrial land at Juniper Ridge to attract certain businesses.
“Most of our eggs are in Juniper Ridge’s basket when it comes to employment land, especially industrial land,” Lee said.
City councilors said they never ruled out selling the entire property, but no one has made a good offer.
“I’m always willing to consider any offer,” Clinton said.
It came to light at the meeting Tuesday that someone recently offered to do just that.
John James, a member of the Juniper Ridge Management Board, said the city recently received a “serious offer” from an unnamed entity that wanted to buy all of Juniper Ridge, but the management board was not informed of the development.
Skidmore said officials did not inform the City Council because “it didn’t really evolve into anything beyond a few initial conversations.”
Clinton said potential purchasers consider their discussions with the city to be confidential and the prospect of information being made public can make it difficult for the city to achieve good real estate deals. In this case, Clinton said, city staff did not inform him of the discussions with a potential buyer.
“I was never in the loop on the potential Juniper Ridge purchase,” Clinton said. “It’s not a criticism; it’s just the way things work is driven by the potential purchaser’s requirements.”
City Councilor Mark Capell said he “heard a rumor there was someone talking about it, but it didn’t get far enough to come to (the City Council).”
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