PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Over the next two years the St. Helens waterfront will undergo a major transformation. The redevelopment project breaks ground on Nov. 2 and will bring improvements to the city’s streets, water infrastructure and business park. 

The Streets and Utilities Extension Project is one component of the city’s plan to redevelop 275 acres of waterfront property along the Columbia River. This is the first major infrastructure project in the waterfront redevelopment efforts. 

St. Helens Public Works Director Mouhamad Zaher said the project will transform the community’s infrastructure, transportation and livability. 

“Aging infrastructure will be addressed by upgrading our water and sewer systems, in addition to installing a new pump station. The safety of pedestrians and commuters will be enhanced by redesigning intersections and sidewalks and improving rights-of-way,” he said. 

The project’s engineering design will also make the waterfront more accessible for the community, Zaher said.

The Streets and Utilities Extension Project was launched in 2021 and will focus on improving key streets and intersections that already exist in the city’s historic Riverfront District. It will also extend utilities onto the city’s 24-acre riverfront property. 

It will improve the safety of existing intersections, increase parking and create pedestrian connections in the district. 

The construction will begin on the South First Street and St. Helens Street intersection 

This map shows what changes will take place during Phase I of the St. Helens waterfront renovation project. Courtesy city of St. Helens

After this, the city plans to redesign the South First Street and Cowlitz Street intersection, extend Cowlitz Street onto the riverfront property with a roundabout feature, and redesign Strand Street to improve traffic safety and create a plaza above Columbia View Park which will serve as a vendor space. 

It will also extend South First Street to the Tualatin Street stairs, create a bluff trail along the west side of the riverfront property that extends from South First Street to Nob HIll Nature Park and Plymouth Street, and extend underground utilities through the riverfront property to prepare for private development. 

The city expects Phase I of the Streets and Utilities Extension Project will be completed in late 2024. 

“We want to create a cohesive riverfront that unites the core of our existing Riverfront District to new development,” said St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh. “By doing so, we can support our existing local businesses while building a strong foundation for future development.” 

This is one of two infrastructure projects that are focused on redeveloping the riverfront property. The other project is the Riverwalk Project. Phase I of the Riverwalk Project is expected to break ground in the summer of 2023. 

This second project will expand Columbia View Park onto the Riverfront Property, construct a new amphitheater stage in the park, and construct the first phase of a public walkway and boardwalk along the edge of the Columbia River. 

The larger Waterfront Redevelopment Project is a legacy project that the city expects will take decades to complete. 

The city of St. Helens has been working for several years to redevelop and rehabilitate land along its waterfront that was once used by the timber industry or a wastewater treatment plant. 

In 2017, the city received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess sites that have been contaminated by potentially hazardous substances, pollutants or other contaminants left behind due to previous development on the land. 

Crystal King, communications officer for the city of St. Helens, told KOIN 6 News that the site of the current project that is set to break ground in November is not impacted by any of the environmental assessments that occurred. 

This map shows the various pieces of property that are included in the St. Helens Waterfront Redevelopment Project. Courtesy city of St. Helens.

The waterfront properties the city purchased in 2015 are both considered Brownfields, meaning hazardous substances are present or potentially present on them. These properties include the former Boise Veneer Mill site, which is approximately 24 acres, and the former Boise Paper Mill site, which is approximately 204 acres. 

These properties, in conjunction with the city’s wastewater treatment plant property, make up the city’s Waterfront Redevelopment Project.   

The 24-acre Boise Veneer Mill property is the site of the Riverfront Property and will be where the first two projects take place: the streets and Utilities Extension Project and the Riverwalk Project. 

The city is currently evaluating options for the 50-acre site that houses the wastewater treatment facility. It’s considering repurposing the site to expand community access to the St. Helens waterfront, provide additional public amenities, and increase opportunities for economic development. 

The 204-acre industrial property at the southernmost area of the St. Helens Waterfront Redevelopment Project is focused on attracting industrial and commercial business to St. Helens. 

The city hopes this site will increase the number of living-wage jobs in the community, increase the tax base, and spur economic development. 

In 2020, the city completed a plan to divide the large property into smaller properties to support several industrial uses. 

The groundbreaking ceremony for the first part of Streets and Utilities Extension Project takes place Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 3 p.m. at South First Street and St. Helens Street.