Fairview Plan would Pay Dividends for City

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February 16, 2004 | Opinion Section | By Editorial Staff

The development project could be a test lab for handling growth.

SALEM, Ore. – Salem residents are used to thinking of economic development in terms about employers and jobs coming to town. But that long-empty site of the old Fairview institution? Not the first thing that comes to mind.

That could be changing now that a local investors’ group is preparing to develop the rolling 275-acre site. They have sold 32 acres to a Salem group who plan to build a community single-family dwellings, cottages, rowhouses and mixed-use structures. Meanwhile, a Portland firm has made an offer to buy a dozen historical buildings to adapt for modern uses.

This project could be worth $30 million when it is done. When the entire site eventually is developed, estimates project its worth will be $350 million.

That is a healthy shot of construction jobs. Plus, annual property taxes will come to about $6 million – this from surplus state land that has long been off the tax rolls.

Sustainable Fairview Associates’ project could boost the local economy in other ways as well. That is because it will offer a sort of living laboratory for solving the problems that communities face nationwide.

Backers envision a community for 1,700 residents, with housing for a variety of income levels. Sixty acres will be preserved as open space with parks, pathways and natural areas.

Energy conservation and environmental stewardship will be evident throughout: Roofs will have solar collectors, rain water will be funneled to natural ravines, and small businesses will recycle one another’s waste.

If this works out as planned, Salem will boast another attraction to draw visitors. That is because across America, communities grapple with the kind of challenges that we face here.

They want to grow without sprawl. They want to add residents without breaking the bank for new roads and sewage-treatment plants. They want fewer traffic jams, more use of mass transit. They want people to feel so connected to their community that they care about improving it.

Planned communities such as this – with open space and pedestrian-friendly design – will have an edge in the market, according to the Urban Land Institute’s “Emerging Trends in Real Estate, 2004.”

The Fairview site could give Salem a new identity: as a city that is solving tomorrow’s problems in creative ways. Architects, city planners and developers would come to check us out.

While they are here, they might tour Salem’s historic downtown and relax in the former industrial site that now is Riverfront Park. Then they could borrow Salem’s innovations for their own communities.

In 2002, when a group of unknowns came up with plans to buy Fairview for $15 million, their idea seemed like a pipe dream. Now, the investors are on track with payments to the state, and a growing number of partners are signing on.

If they succeed in their vision, Salem will succeed as well.