Universal Plaza construction slated to begin in June

The long-held vision of a community gathering place in the heart of downtown Tigard will be a reality by the end of the year.

The plaza’s centerpiece is a tile-bottom splash pad.
The plaza’s centerpiece is a tile-bottom splash pad that sprays recirculated water out and up onto a cool play place on hot summer days. Courtesy/City of Tigard

Groundbreaking on Universal Plaza is set for early June with construction of the first phase, including a splash pad and a walkway that will connect the plaza to nearby Fanno Creek Trail, slated for completion by the end of the year.

During an April 12 meeting, the Tigard City Council awarded D&C Construction a $5.6 million contract to transform the nearly two-acre open space off Burnham Street into the city’s new living room. 

“In 25 years of doing community development projects around this region, I have never been more excited or more convinced about a single project’s potential for transformational impact on a redevelopment district as I am about Universal Plaza,” Community Development Director Kenny Asher told City Council members. 

Asher praised the development team, calling the project “the product of so much collaboration and aspiration.”

The plaza’s centerpiece is a tile-bottom splash pad that sprays recirculated water out and up onto a cool play place on hot summer days. 

The fully programmable fountain is equipped with sensors to automatically adjust and react to immediate conditions, changing water pressure to match usage. After dark, built-in backlighting transforms it into a brightly colored fountain.
The fully programmable fountain is equipped with sensors to automatically adjust and react to immediate conditions, changing water pressure to match usage. After dark, built-in backlighting transforms it into a brightly colored fountain. Courtesy/City of Tigard

The fully programmable fountain is equipped with sensors to automatically adjust and react to immediate conditions, changing water pressure to match usage. After dark, built-in backlighting transforms it into a brightly colored fountain.

With the water turned off, the flat tile base becomes an artful, versatile, multi-purpose space. 

A future second phase of construction would bring the plaza design to full fruition with the addition of all-access community rooms and a covered picnic area.

Renderings show a space that balances form with function, with attention to access for both pedestrians coming from downtown or the Fanno Creek Trail, and vehicles to haul in vending tents for farmers markets and festivals. 

There’s room enough for 40 to 50 vending stalls, fulfilling the vision of the plaza becoming the farmers market’s new home.

“The design itself didn’t come from us; it came from everyone who participated. We on our own wouldn’t have come up with this design. It just wouldn’t have happened,” said Peter Emerson, a landscape architect who led the RIOS Design Collective team.

Phase two construction will add an overhead canopy providing shelter from the rain and sun, and a community room.
Phase two construction will add an overhead canopy providing shelter from the rain and sun, and a community room. Courtesy/City of Tigard

RIOS began developing the project in February 2020, tweaking its initial community engagement plans to fit pandemic-based gathering constraints. 

Emerson told the City Council that the time he and his team spent clearing the site, then hosting a series of temporary art installations, was an invaluable part of the design process. He said the team tried to understand the specific elements in play and garner community feedback to create something uniquely Tigard.

“Everything the community requested, the plaza has been designed to accommodate,” Emerson said.

Spending time at the future plaza site crystalized for Emerson its invaluable role in connecting the city center with the Fanno Creek Trail. The connector, which had been originally conceptualized as a separate project, was wrapped into the plaza vision as a result.

Coupling the two simplified the trail project. The path connects the southwestern corner of the plaza to the trail entrance via a raised boardwalk that passes over a sensitive wetland area. 

The city purchased the plaza site in 2014 and paid Ferguson Plumbing $450,000 to terminate its lease on the site, which would have run through 2024, and relocate, making way for plaza design and development to begin.

A walkway will connect the plaza to nearby Fanno Creek Trail, slated for completion by the end of the year. This artist’s rendering depicts the view entering Universal Plaza from Fanno Creek Trail. Courtesy/City of Tigard

A pre-pandemic timeline set the project’s target completion for this June with a total budget of about $3.5 million. The pandemic’s impact on material and shipping costs nearly doubled the project’s price tag. 

The money is still coming from a combination of urban renewal funds and fees that developers pay to the city. Annual maintenance costs are projected to be $237,000.

“The Plaza is going to catalyze new development downtown. We believe the many thousands of visitors that come to the plaza are going to become new downtown customers,” Tigard redevelopment manager Sean Farrelly said.

The second phase of construction could begin as early as 2024.