Plaza Project Moves Forward, Pandemic may Delay Public Outreach

View at Canopy / Maze Court

Universal Plaza, a community gathering place planned for downtown Tigard, is still at least two years from fruition. But the city wants residents to start seeing the future home of the plaza as a public space long before that.

It’s part of an inclusive project design process that will seek to draw residents – and their input – to the Burnham Street site with temporary installations and community events.

“Universal Plaza really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide a signature public space in downtown that will attract residents of all ages,” Sean Farrelly, Tigard’s redevelopment manager, told the City Council during a Feb. 25 meeting.

The project moved forward during that meeting when councilors voted unanimously to award a $643,300 design contract to RCH Studios, a Los Angeles-based firm that is opening a Portland office. RCH was among four firms that submitted proposals late last year, according to the city.

“We fully intend to get to know your community better and work with the staff to really understand your community better and respond to that,” Peter Emerson of RCH told the council during a presentation before the vote.

Part of that process will be an “activation phase,” according to a city staff report, the goal of which is to “attract people to the site and test multifunctional approaches that combine creativity, the arts and the end-user experience.”

This will include “installations, seating, shade and water features, event happenings and exhibits,” the staff report says. And the site will be incorporated into large downtown events, such as the Taste of Tigard, Latino Fest and the tree lighting ceremony.

“The idea is that we will begin programming the space immediately with elements,” design team member Alisha Sullivan told the council, adding that those things will “get the space into people’s mind as a place where you can go, to have it start feeling like a park.”

Night Aerial view at Plaza

Councilor Liz Newton, who participated in the review of design proposals, said the approach of using installations and events to get people interacting with the site and sharing opinions about what they like and don’t like was compelling.

“That had me thinking,” she said. “Everybody is going to want to go down there every week to see what’s going on down there now.”

This activation phase was planned to begin in May, but may be delayed due to the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, Lauren Scott, the city’s community engagement coordinator, said in an email.

“There will be a lot of opportunity for community gathering and input and we want to make sure that we allow enough time for the community to create this space,” she said.

The city purchased the future plaza’s Burnham Street site – which is about an acre located near Main Street and adjacent to the Fanno Creek Trail – in 2014, Scott said. Ferguson Plumbing had a lease on the site that ran through 2024. Last year, the city agreed to pay Ferguson $450,000 to terminate the lease early and help the company move to a new location in Tualatin, which it did in January, clearing the way for the city to start designing Universal Plaza.

According to a pre-pandemic timeline presented by Emerson in February, the activation and design phase is slated to begin in May and take about 14 months. The target completion date for the project is June of 2022. The project’s total budget is $3.5 million, with the money coming from a combination of urban renewal funds and fees that developers pay to the city.

While specific amenities for the plaza will be determined through the activation and outreach phase, the project’s name – Universal Plaza – provides an indication of its general spirit.

“The ‘universal’ concept refers to the design principles that Tigard wants to see honored in this place: universal access and inclusivity, and a connection to the natural universe.”

“This is such an important project for the city, and it has so much important future generational impacts of being a gathering space,” Councilor Heidi Lueb said on Feb. 25. “I’m so excited to see what it becomes and the way that we are changing our downtown – being more inclusive, looking forward and thinking outside of the box.”

Other councilors at the meeting expressed similar excitement about seeing the project moving forward. Council President John Goodhouse suggested the addition of a web cam so residents can see what is going on at the site.

“We have very high expectations,” Mayor Jason Snider said, adding a bit of advice for RCH team members from Los Angeles: “It rains here. Think about that in the design. I’m sure the folks you have on your team that do live here won’t forget.”