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By Simmons B. Buntin

Community History and Demographics

Tualatin (pronounced TWAH-luh-tin) is located 10 miles south of Portland, straddling Interstate 5, which runs from Seattle, through Portland, and south into California.  While the suburban city only has a population of 20,400 people, its population has grown an amazing 1,700 percent since 1970, when less than 1,000 people lived there.

Tualatin, which takes its name from the river that meanders along its northern board, is the Atfalati Indian word for "lazy."  Though the region was settled in the 1850s, Tualatin was not incorporated until 1913.

Tualatin Commons site planThe town was platted in the 1880s after the Portland & Willamette Valley Rail company built rail lines and a depot.  It served as a small center of trade, and its biggest draw may have been the fact that it had "the only saloon closer than Oregon City and Portland" for the surrounding small communities.

Tualatin grew slowly as a small rural town until the mid-1970s, when it mushroomed into a Portland bedroom community.  In addition to the residential growth, the city also experienced rapid commercial and industrial development, despite a statewide housing construction slump and recession at the time.

The city has grown in a relatively unplanned manner, with no central business district, in a historical sense, to call downtown.  When the population surged, sprawl development occurred largely unchecked across the city

Tualatin's population is expected to continue its rise at similar growth rates.  From 1991 to 1995, for instance, the population in the four-country metropolitan Portland area grew by 110,000 people, and is expected to grow by up to one million more over the next 25 years.  The majority of the growth will likely be in Tualatin and other suburbs.

Political and Regulatory System

The City of Tualatin has a council-manager form of government.  The seven-member City Council serves as the Tualatin Development Commission, the redevelopment oversight organization of Tualatin's urban renewal efforts.  Tualatin's City Council is in turn supported by a number of community advisory groups, including the Architectural Review Board, Planning Advisory Committee, and Urban Renewal Authority Committee, as well as the Economic Development Department.  The Economic Development Department has direct responsibility for the Tualatin Commons redevelopment project.

Landscaping and public spaces adjacent to the Lake of the Commons
Landscaping and public spaces adjacent to the Lake of the Commons.
Photo by R. Shelton, courtesy of Tualatin Development Commission.

In October 1979 the Tualatin City Council adopted a new Community Plan that replaced the existing system of Euclidean zoning with a system of "Planning Districts."  The change provided the opportunity for Tualatin to be more flexible in zoning, especially for mixed-use projects.

The city is also a member of the larger regional planning and governance entity of the three-county Portland metropolitan area, Metro.  On behalf of its 24 municipal members required by law to participate, Metro plans transportation and other vital land use elements included in the region's urban growth boundary.  Metro is in the process of developing its Metro 2040 framework, and sites Tualatin Commons as an example of good local planning and development in municipalities' "increasing responsibility for implementing the regional growth concept."

Hoffices - live/work units
Different views across the main plaza. The "hoffices," live/work units (top); class A office building (middle);  and class A office building and Century Hotel (lower right).
Photos by S. Buntin.

Office building and Century Hotel

Class A office buildingInitiative for Redevelopment

The Tualatin Development Commission has been working on redevelopment of the site now housing Tualatin Commons since 1975, when it established urban renewal boundaries over a 300-acre area of central Tualatin.  Incentive—and frustration—became greater and greater as two attempts by developers failed in the 1980s.

Redevelopment of the area was not so much a question of urban decay per se, but rather was instigated to counteract a number of other growing problems, according to the Tualatin Central Urban Renewal Plan.  These problems included:

  • Deleterious land uses.
  • Lack of flood protection.
  • Lack of adequate drainage facilities and public rights of way.
  • Traffic congestion and railroad/motor vehicle conflicts and the public safety hazards resulting therefrom.
  • Inaccessibility and inadequacy of public facilities and services.

More recently, however, the initiative for redeveloping the area has been both to spur new development, and also to give the relatively centerless city a true civic and commercial downtown.  "As with most suburban communities," says economic development director Janet Young, "Tualatin has no legacy of public gathering places in the core area, no town square, not even an old downtown to start with.  The auto-oriented commercial development of the 1970s and 1980s forms the commercial core."

 The need for such a central place was readily evident in the comments received by citizens from a community survey and meetings.  "Tualatin needs a classy center that separates us from Beaverton and Tigard," claimed one resident.  "I'd like to see an European-style town or village square... where people could meet for a cup of coffee to play checkers, chess, dominoes, or just visit in a relaxing area without occupying a space that someone is waiting for," wrote another during the site visioning process.

Flowers, promenade, and Villas on the Lake
Flowers, promenade, and Villas on the Lake.
Photo by R. Shelton, courtesy of Tualatin Development Commission.

"Tualatin citizens have an opportunity which is very rare in today's suburbs," wrote Young in a 1992 Tualatin Times editorial, "the chance to shape the center of their city.  In most rapidly growing suburbs, prime central locations disappeared long ago to shopping centers or office parks.  Tualatin still has the chance to shape the future of its central city."  Or, as an editorial in the January 25, 1990 The Oregonian put it, "Can a city long survive without a heart...?  When local and regional interests coincide, Tualatin... would acquire the heart that is seen as a necessity for the life of a modern city."

Fostering "UnSprawl" Through Redevelopment

The redevelopment's "unsprawl" outcomes can be attributed to four factors: perseverance of the Tualatin Development Commission; leadership of the Economic Development Department and its director, Janet Young; a strong group of consultants, headed by the Leland Consulting Group; and continual involvement and concern by Tualatin's residents.

Tualatin Commons before...
Tualatin Commons before and after.  Aerial photo was taken in July 1996, prior to start of construction on Phase II of Tualatin Mews on the north end of the site.  The Tualatin River and Community Park are one-half mile north of the Lake of the Commons.
Photos courtesy of Tualatin Development Commission.
Aerial view of Tualatin Commons

When the Tualatin City Council approved its Central Urban Renewal Plan in 1975, it also established the Urban Renewal Area. It was not until 1983, however, with the release of a report developed under the Urban Renewal Advisory Committee, that a concept for a "Village Square" developed.

Under the Village Square concept, the city offered up to $12 million in funding for infrastructure and a public square through tax-increment financing, in order to bring a developer in who would redevelop the city's central area.  Between 1985 and 1987, the city purchased a total of 19 acres of land where Tualatin Commons is today.  Tax-increment financing was the predominant method used to pay for the property.

Between 1986 and 1989, however, the site was tied up with two developers, who sequentially backed out.  During this time, the Development Commission kept the community involved through public meetings.  And despite the public's and their own frustrations to convert the site, the Development Commission maintained a proactive role and did not simply give the property up to the highest bidder.

Mayor Steve Stolze campaigned for the office, in fact, on the agenda of moving the redevelopment forward.  "This project is very responsive to what people said they wanted downtown," he said.  "This is really the end of a dream for me, or I guess I should say, the dream becoming a reality."

 Much of the reason the Development Commission could keep its balance after 1989 was because of Janet Young and her Economic Development Department, as well as the Leland Consulting Group, brought in to facilitate development of a new plan—now called Tualatin Commons—that was based on community input, sound principles of pedestrian orientation, and thorough analysis of the site itself.

The primary guidance for the creation of Tualatin Commons was a set of ten objectives developed by the Commission and Economic Development Department based on a series of public meetings held after the second developer withdrew.  These objects fundamentally serve as the community's ten principles of sustainable redevelopment:

  1. Provide strong civic focus using public facilities and public spaces.
  2. Encourage and influence diverse private development.
  3. Promote pedestrian and vehicular circulation.
  4. Promote day and night uses for downtown.
  5. Create a strong visual impression at major entrances.
  6. Enhance economic viability for all downtown businesses.
  7. Provide convenient and adequate parking.
  8. Establish linkages to other uses downtown and the Community Park.
  9. Retain retail market share downtown.
  10. Build a downtown for the long term (50+ years).

These objectives were the guiding tenets for the city and design team in creating the vision of Tualatin Commons.  They are supported by goals within the Central Urban Renewal Plan, which itself has an overall goal "to strengthen the social and economic development of central Tualatin by stabilizing and improving property values; eliminating existing blight, and preventing future blight; to encourage and facilitate land uses, public and private, that result in activity during all business hours, evenings, nights, and weekends; and to encourage indoor and outdoor uses."

Crawdad Festival
Encouraging outdoor uses:  the first Tualatin Crawdad Festival at Tualatin Commons.
Photo by R. Shelton, courtesy of Tualatin Development Commission.

The concerted efforts of the City Council, Economic Development Department, design team, and perhaps most of all citizens allowed Tualatin Commons to take an economically, environmentally, and socially successful form.  Their efforts demonstrate three lessons, according to Janet Young:

  • Give people priority over cars.
  • Demand high quality of yourselves and others.
  • Be a true partner with the private sector.

Summary of Redevelopment

Though the city created a 300-acre redevelopment district in the center of town in 1975, it was until 18 years later that Tualatin actually broke ground on the 19-acre Tualatin Commons, a mixed-use redevelopment comprised of office buildings, rowhouses, a hotel, work/live units called "hoffices," restaurants, and a public plaza and promenade surrounding a manmade lake.

The largest use before redevelopment was the non-conforming Hervin Blue Mountain Dog Food factory, which operated with a noticeably unpleasant odor until 1987.  In that year, it was sold to a competing pet food corporation that purchased the trademark and inventory but left ownership of the buildings and equipment to Hervin's parent company.  Production was indefinitely halted shortly thereafter.

A number of older, dilapidated buildings—including a Dairy Queen, old houses converted to various uses such as an auto parts store and small engine repair shop, and a few older residences—were also onsite.  Other uses included the Tualatin Valley Fire Department building, and an old warehouse temporarily being used to house the city's Police Services Department.  At the time, the entire site was also from three to six feet below the 100-year floodplain.

Between 1985 and 1987 the city purchased the property under the auspices of the Tualatin Development Commission, relocating the businesses and residents as required by Oregon law.  After failed attempts at redeveloping the site, the city decided to undertake the redevelopment process itself by first creating a site plan based on community and design team input, and then dividing the site into seven parcels for private purchase.  These parcels were offered adjacent to city-developed public spaces: a lake, public plaza, and promenade.  Redevelopment of five of the parcels is now complete, construction nearly complete on the sixth, and seventh is still available.

Summer fun on the Lake of the Commons
Summer fun on the Lake of the Commons.
Photo by R. Shelton, courtesy of Tualatin Development Commission.

The Lake of the Commons

The heart of the project—both physically (in its human-heart shape) and symbolically (as the heart of the city)—is the Lake of the Commons, a 3.1-acre permanent body of water constructed to satisfy a number of criteria.  Because the entire site was several feet below the floodplain, excavated soil from its construction provided fill for the rest of the site.  This greatly reduced the amount of imported fill needed to raise surrounding construction sites above floodplain levels.  It also serves as a catch basin in times of heavy flooding along the Tualatin River, just north of the site.

The lake creates a "ring of value" for private parcels surrounding the site, especially along its north side, which a market analysis concluded was a "weak" draw for redevelopment.  The lake becomes an automatic amenity—the "anchor"—for developers seeking to reduce risk and enhance aesthetic appeal and marketability of developments, encouraging uses that might not otherwise locate in a typical suburban downtown area.

According to Janet Young, the lake and surrounding promenade and plazas that are an integral part of the site are large enough to be welcoming to the entire community, yet also compact enough to allow for and promote a successful business environment.  Not only does the lake attract residents who want a central public space for social, recreational, and other reasons, but just as importantly, it attracts business.

Finally, the three-acre lake replaced two acres of city streets, substituting asphalt for water and therefore reducing onsite impervious surfaces, traffic congestion, and auto emissions.

The lake itself holds six million gallons of water, and ranges from between six to 18 inches deep at the edges, to nine feet in the center.  The water lost from evaporation is replaced by onsite wells, which at one time produced the original city water supply.  It has been designed as a closed system, and treated wastewater from a treatment plant north of the Tualatin River may be used in the future.

Lake maintenance costs average about $20,000 per year, nearly identical to those for maintaining the previous streets.

Small plaza and promenade
A small plaza joins the promenade next to the
smaller office building and a series of restaurants.

Photo by S. Buntin.

Promenade, Public Plaza, and Community Center

The Lake of the Commons is surrounded by a wide promenade lined with brick pavers, street furniture, and lush landscaping.  It links the lake to the residences, restaurants, and offices, as well as to pathways between buildings that lead to landscaped parking lots, adjacent buildings, and the 28-acre Community Park abutting the north side of Tualatin Commons.  It is adorned with public art and includes a blue and white railing that circles the lake in a fixed roll of gentle waves.

Directly west of the lake is the other centerpiece of the Commons, a 20,000-square-foot public plaza.  At its center is a large, ground-level fountain paved with a ring of 14-foot-long, red ceramic tile crawfish over a waving design of blue tiles.  At the fountain's edges are a series of jets that shoot balls of water when large buttons are pushed.  An open air colonnade is located adjacent to the fountain, hosting festivals, markets, and other activities.

A clock tower is planned as a public arts project on the main plaza, and will be the object of focus for major lines of sight within the Commons.  Construction should be initiated by the end of 1999, assuming funds are raised.

A community center has also been designed into the site plan for the area just north of the public plaza.  If constructed, it would likely house the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce and public facilities such as conference rooms.  However, it may not be built because the lot was planted with grass and has become a popular area with residents.  "If you want to develop a site," says Young, "don't put a nice and accessible lawn on it."

Century Hotel
The Century Hotel, with parking facing the busy arterial road along the Commons's south side.
Photo by S. Buntin.

Century Hotel

A market analysis conducted by the Leland Consulting Group—Tualatin's lead consultant contracted to recommend options for the property and manage the process—determined that while the national market for hotels was weak, the southwest metropolitan Portland market was strong, especially for Tualatin.  Based on this recommendation, the Development Commission decided to pursue a hotel for the Commons because hotels provide around-the-clock activity, support restaurant uses, provide high taxable value, and support local businesses through guest spending.  The Century Hotel, a 40-room suites hotel with rooms that overlook the promenade and lake, opened in spring 1994.

Office Buildings and Restaurants

A total of 87,000 square feet of office space in two "Class A" office buildings provide local business and employment opportunities.  Onsite office buildings also provide the opportunity for residents in the rowhouses, condominiums, and apartments to have close access to work.  Additionally, office uses support the onsite restaurants and utilize shared parking, reducing the overall number of parking spaced needed for the site.

According to the Development Commission and consultants, office space is necessary to literally provide a working downtown center, as well as to provide beneficial tax revenue for the city.

Tualatin Commons includes two restaurant parcels, both at the south end of the lake, adjacent to the hotel and office buildings.  Currently, a three-tenant restaurant occupies the site just sough of the public plaza, while the lot for another restaurant adjacent to the hotel is still available.

While there is no retail onsite now, excluding restaurants, the second phase of "Tualatin Mews" mixed-use development will include some ground-level service retail.

Smaller office building and restaurants
The smaller of two class A office buildings (left), and the only constructed restaurant, so far (right), looking west across the Lake of the Commons.
Photo by S. Buntin.

Residential Uses

There are currently two built residential projects, and a third nearing completion.  Perhaps the most interesting is the Tualatin Mews "hoffices" project, an owner-occupied, mixed-use development in which the first floor, street level, is comprised of commercial space (generally office, retail, or gallery), and two levels of living space are set above.  Leland's market analysis indicated that the number of home workers is increasing nationally by over one million people per year, representing a full 25 percent of the national labor force.  The seven-unit hoffices building provides a valuable mixed-use live/work opportunity for residents.  The hoffices currently include a jewelry-maker with a gallery, and a software developer with a home office.  Additionally, the hoffices utilize passive solar design.

Tualatin Mews
Tualatin Mews "hoffices."
Photo by S. Buntin. Villas on the Lake
Celebrating in front of the Villas on the Lake.
Photo by R. Shelton, courtesy of
Tualatin Development Commission.

Phase II of Tualatin Mews
Architect's rendering of
Phase II of Tualatin Mews.

Illustration coutesy of
Tualatin Development Commission.

Other residential projects include high-end rowhouses in the northwest section of the Commons, surrounding a small, landscaped pond.  Eighteen rowhouses are complete as Phases I and II of "Villas on the Lake," and 24 market-rate apartments or additional rowhouses are scheduled for Phase III construction.

Additionally, the parcel directly north of the lake—Phase II of Tualatin Mews—is nearing completion now, and includes 12 moderate-rent apartments and 15 moderate-rent townhomes (with at least six at the lower end of the rent scale) situated over 18,000 square feet of retail space that will include such uses as a travel agency, ice cream shop, and coffee house.  This parcel includes a promenade-level public plaza and fountain and a second-level private plaza for apartment residents with landscaping that is designed to "create an urban resort atmosphere."  Project density is 36 units per acre.

Public Art

The city and its citizens have placed a large emphasis on public art at the Commons.  The Tualatin Art Committee received a grant from the regional Metropolitan Arts Commission in 1993 to develop a five-year plan for public art at Tualatin Commons.  The plan has been developed and is being implemented.  "Art can make all the difference about how people feel about the Commons and their city," acknowledged Consuelo Underwood, the art consultant hired by the city to develop and implement the plan.

Art projects are divided into five categories:

  • Small art features, including a memorial commemorating historical Tualatin, a dedicated area for citizen contributions, and artist-designed utility vault lids.
  • Landscaping and lighting, including flower planters designed by artists, a small plaza designed by an artist, a "surprise" in paving or cement, and artist-created quotations in pavement.
  • Major artwork, including artwork at main intersections of adjacent streets, the clock tower on the main plaza, a sculpture garden, and art or gallery space within private developments onsite.
  • Linkages, including artist-designed pedestrian linkages to nearby streets, the library, and Community Park.
  • Temporary art.
Tualatin Commons logo on tree planter base
Public artwork abounds at Tualatin Commons, including the logo as tree base (top), water fountain (middle), and history of Tualatin chiseled into marble banners edged with brick in
the smaller plaza (bottom).

Photos by S. Buntin.

Public art as water fountain

Tualatin's history chiseled into the smaller plaza

The city appointed a graphic artist to design a logo from ten concepts identified by the Development Commission, and the logo adorns all marketing materials, drain covers, street furniture, banners, signage, and the like.  The first art project completed under the new plan was a series of 61 artist-designed banners that hung from ornamental light fixtures throughout the site during its May 1994 dedication.

Other public art includes a history of Tualatin imbedded in brick pavers in the small plaza located between the unbuilt restaurant site and the smaller office building; drinking fountains cast in glass with water urn shapes visible at their cores and embedded reflective glass icons taking on different colors as the light of day changes; the ceramic tiles of the main plaza; a large, stone circular planter that announces Tualatin Commons and greets visitors arriving from the west; and the wave-shaped railing surrounding the lake.

Environmental and Cultural Redevelopment Efforts

A primary responsibility of Tualatin Commons is to adequately integrate itself into the surrounding built and natural neighborhoods, which it does.  The lake and open space also provide a link between the various unbuilt open spaces and greenways surrounding the renewed town center, especially for pedestrians wishing to move either directly from the Commons or points south, to Community Park and the river just a half mile to the north.

The physical redevelopment of Tualatin's downtown has also enhanced the redevelopment of social, cultural, and recreational opportunities.  The Commons hosts a number of festivals and social events, especially during the summer months.  The largest is the annual Tualatin Crawfish Festival, which attracts thousands of Pacific Northwest residents and includes live entertainment and music, Historical Society mini-museum, parade, dance, and pancake breakfast (not necessarily in that order).  The Commons also hosts the Tualatin farmer's market each Saturday morning from early June through late October.  And a Friday evening concert series runs from mid-July through late August, including jazz, instrumental, big band, and traditional African music, as well as a children's concert.

Tualatin Commons and the lake especially provide a variety of recreational opportunities.  During the summer months, a vendor rents paddle boats while hobbyists enjoy captaining radio-controlled boats across the lake.  Though no swimming is allowed in the lake, children and adults alike are encouraged to frolic in the water of the main plaza's crawfish fountain.  Other residents and visitors picnic, stroll, and otherwise take advantage of the public open spaces.

Entrance to the promenade
One of the many entrances to the promenade—here between the larger office building (left) and Century Hotel (right).
Photo by S. Buntin.

Redevelopment Process

The earlier proposals for the site failed because they were retail-dominated, refusing to take into account the influence of nearby larger retail centers.  Both developers spent many months negotiating with stores and changing site plans to accommodate retail, but to no avail.  One developer, in fact, changed its plan to a grocery store-anchored strip mall, which met considerable resistance from city staff and community members.  Everyone agreed that Tualatin did not need another strip mall, but rather a true city center for all residents.

Instead of hoping for one developer who would come up with a conceptual plan that would be everything the city and its residents could hope for—a seemingly impossible request—the Development Commission decided instead to take the site and its possibilities fully to the general public.  In January 1990, over 200 residents showed up for a Commission meeting to discuss the site's future.

The city had three options: (1) attempt to redevelop the site again with a new developer, (2) evaluate alternative ways to develop an identifiable core area; (3) sell the land to the highest bidder but retain the usual Architectural Review Board and zoning control over the resulting development.

Residents overwhelmingly supported the second option, urging the city to slip into the role of developer, working with a good design team on creation of a plan, and then working with the private sector in developing portions of the site.  As one citizen said, summing up the residents' reasoning, "We have plenty of places to shop, give us places to go."

From that pivotal meeting, the Development Commission established two goals.  First, it committed to placing a higher priority on creating civic spaces.  Second, it maintained its focus on long-term taxable value of the land, realizing that a good design might take time to completely sell to developers more accustomed to quick and easy suburban strip development.

Working with the Economic Development Department, the Commission then decided to "focus on sites which could be sold off to multiple developers, rather than having the fate of the entire site tied up with one developer," says Young.

The first step for the Economic Development Department was assembling a quality team of consultants to create a plan.  The Leland Consulting Group was brought on board, and in June 1992 developed a market analysis, development program, and financial analysis for the site.  A transportation analysis was completed later in the year.  The city gave the consulting team a number of directive in developing a preliminary concept plan: make it implementable as quickly as possible, make it realistic in the day's real estate market, have it contain a balance of public and private uses, do not let it included another strip shopping center, and make it consistent with the ten citizens' objectives.

A small public open space
Public spaces are tucked into every corner of Tualatin Commons.
Photo by S. Buntin.

A number of site plans were developed in the process of refining Tualatin Commons, and once the final plan was set, the Development Commission set up three ground rules: 1) three of the seven development parcels had to be committed before construction of the Lake of the Commons could start; 2) the city's construction budget for public improvements could not exceed $4.8 million; and 3) construction had to begin by the summer of 1993.

Though the city had offered up to $12 million in infrastructure and related funding for prior redevelopment proposals, the city now limited itself to just one-third that amount primarily because it was unsure whether further tax-increment financing was allowed under Oregon's new Measure 5, which puts a cap on the millage rate that can be earmarked for municipal and educational services.  The new state measure mandated that the project be constructed from funds available in the general reserve accounts, rather than issuing new bonds.  Land sale revenues, since the city already owned the land, were estimated at just under $3 million, leaving a net public development cost of roughly $2 million.

Original land acquisition costs were just under $4.4 million.  The land was purchased through tax-increment bond sales and a loan.  By 1992, the Tualatin Development Commission had enough funds on hand from previous tax-increment collections to construct Tualatin Commons without the need to raise additional funds.

In addition to the Urban Renewal Advisory Committee, a citizens' group called Tualatin Futures played a large part in moving Tualatin Commons along.  The group formed in 1992 based on the principle of advocating for a livable downtown Tualatin.  It worked diligently from its initiation until after the groundbreaking ceremony in July 1993 in support of Leland's proposal.  It helped the city combat a small but vocal group of opponents who believed "the free market should do with the land as it may," and that a strip shopping mall would be a more appropriate use.

Citizens played a role in the redevelopment process in other ways, as well.  In the fall of 1992, the city held a poster contest for students of three local elementary schools, asking them what they would like to see at Tualatin Commons.  Ideas ranged from a parade with a water fountain, to a young swimmer on an inflatable mattress, to a gigantic candy store supported on one side by a Chinese restaurant and on the other by a pizza parlor.

Older students from Tualatin High School led a campaign to sell Tualatin Commons ball caps, t-shirts, and sweatshirts as a marketing ploy as well as a fundraiser for student government activities.

Reflections of the Villas on the Lake
The Villas on the Lake reflect upon the Lake of the Commons
in front and the tall evergreens near Tualatin River behind.

Photo by S. Buntin.

Indeed, marketing has played a significant role in the redevelopment process.  An advertising and public relations firm was hired both to keep the public informed and assess community attitudes, and to get information out to prospective developers.  While press releases, a press kit, media interviews, flyers, and articles in the city's newsletter kept local citizens and business owners informed, mailings were sent to introduce the project to a list of potential bankers, real estate brokers, and developers.  Additionally, project updates were released on a regular basis, and market studies were used to determine the best uses for individual parcels.

In less than one year, the sale or commitment of six of the seven parcels was secured.  Four parcels had letters of intent by the Commission's deadline, even though the Commission acknowledged that it could be five or more years before the parcels would sell. Construction on the public portion of the site began after the groundbreaking ceremony in early July 1993.  The ceremony was jointly sponsored by the Development Commission and the Tualatin Futures group, hosted by the mayor, and included an old-fashioned, onsite town social.  Construction of the lake, promenade, and public plaza were completed in spring 1994, as were the first two projects—Century Hotel and Phase I of the Villas on the Lake rowhouses.

The project has not been without its barriers, however.  Time, Measure 5, a vocal opposition group, and a poor real estate market all seemed ready to doom Tualatin Commons.  While those barriers fell by the wayside, long-term marketing has been a considerable challenge.  While a marketing firm was hired to help educate the citizens and prospective developers, after most of the parcels were sold, the firm was released.

But Janet Young speaks of the need for continuing marketing in a more resident-oriented manner.  While a number of festivals, for example, have been scheduled, summer use by a wide range of residents is not as extensive as Young believes it could or should be.  The Economic Development Department has seen a reduction in its small staff, and no staff resources have been available to increase marketing efforts among potential users of the public spaces.  After completion of the public spaces in 1994, moreover, the Tualatin Futures group largely went away.  Young would like to see a similar group continue to promote the Commons.

Crawdad fountain.
The crawdad fountain in Tualatin Commons's large plaza.
Photo by R. Shelton, courtesy of Tualatin Development Commission.

Measuring Success

The primary measure of success for the city has been the rapid rate at which private development parcels have been sold and constructed.  These building bring not only additional tax revenue, but more importantly, according to Dave Leland, they highlight three distinguishing features of the Commons project: urban scale, urban form, and pedestrian orientation.

Another measure of success is the combination of resulting uses and overall design compared with the preliminary site plan.  Because the conceptual plan was relatively flexible and allowed developers to submit proposals based on the public spaces, their experience, and the current market, a fairly large variety of buildings—though not necessarily uses—could have emerged.  Yet even the building shapes closely resembled those sketched out in the conceptual plan, though the design team did not participate in any physical design or architecture on behalf of private developers.

Economically, the office space (100 percent leased), residences (100 percent sold or rented), and hotel (meeting predicted occupancy levels) have performed better than the three restaurants.  At least one restaurant has gone out of business, and for others business is slower than hoped.  They anticipate increased business once the last phase of Tualatin Mews is complete.

Tualatin was able to construct the infrastructure and other public aspects of the Commons  without having to raise additional revenue—after land sales achieving a net public cost of only $2 million.  The private developments, however, have a value of over $22 million, about $1 million more than initially estimated.  The $22 million value is more than $8 million higher than projected taxable value if the Commons were developed based only on private market processes.  Additionally, several public construction items actually cost less than they were projected at, resulting in $264,000 in savings in parking lot costs and $185,000 in savings in landscaping costs.

The site plan is successful to private developers for a number of reasons.  The initial price of the land was competitive with similar property in the surrounding area, but included the lake as an amenity.  Developers could wait to come up with money to purchase the parcels until the design process was completed, saving property carrying expenses.  Additionally, the city streamlined the public approvals process to allow developers who met the conceptual plan and design guidelines to purchase the lots in a more time- and cost-effective manner.  The city also provided all necessary infrastructure.

Tualatin Mews Phase II, a Governor's Award for Livability winner.
Photo courtesy of Livable Oregon.

The site is highly visible for commuters, with 30,000 vehicles passing by daily.  Though the market was poor in 1991 and 1992, it was on an upswing in 1993, and there was growing market opportunity in nearly every sector.  While private financing restrictions placed much commercial construction on hold for several years, the demand continued to grow, and Tualatin Commons effectively tapped into that demand.

Major environmental benefits have resulted from the Commons.  First, the noticeably repulsive odor of the pet food factory has been eliminated.  Second, two acres of impervious streets and their associated traffic, noise, and automobile emissions have been replaced by a 3-acre lake.  In act, traffic volume has been reduced by 40 percent in the Commons area compared to standard retail and prior uses.  And third, the lake has alleviated the historic problem of the area being below the 100-year floodplain.  In constructing the lake, fill was used to raise the surrounding parcels to higher levels.  Additionally, in demolishing the buildings, concrete was recycled into the lake walls, promenade, and public plaza walkways.

Perhaps the largest real measure of success is the fact that Tualatin now has a city center that has created a sense of pride in the community.  "I think it will have a much bigger impact than just the 20 acres," said a member of the Development Commission.  "We are going to see almost a renaissance occurring outside the boundaries of the project.  But it's going to start slow."

Within the Commons, however, a renaissance has already taken place, giving the once-centerless Tualatin a heart, and giving its residents reasons to fill their own hearts with a sense of joy and sense of place.  "It is one of the most exciting things in my life," said an original member of the Urban Renewal Advisory Committee.  "We could see it coming.  Here was an opportunity to make a place where people can feel that the community belongs to them, a community made up of people who live and work there."  That is indeed unsprawl.

For more information, visit the Tualatin Commons (West Coast TND) website at www.tndwest.com/tualatincommons.html.


Simmons B. Buntin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. With Ken Pirie, he is the author of the new book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press, 2013). His books of poetry are Riverfall (2005) and Bloom (2010), both published by Ireland's Salmon Poetry. Recent work has appeared in North American Review, ISLE, Versal, Orion, Hawk & Handsaw, High Desert Journal, and Kyoto Journal. Catch up with him at www.SimmonsBuntin.com.
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Just the Facts.

Tualatin Commons in Tualatin, Oregon

  • 20,400 city population
  • Oregon's fastest growing city, located in Washington County, south of Portland
  • 19-acre site purchased by city in 1987, redevelopment began in 1989, groundbreaking held in 1993
  • Creation of Tualatin Commons mixed-used redevelopment, replacing "derelict uses" including abandoned pet food factory
  • Net public cost after land sales equals $2 million, though all development valued at over $22 million
  • Creation of Lake of the Commons provided economic, cultural, and recreational amenity
  • Mixed uses include residences, "hoffices," offices, hotel, and restaurants
  • Public-private partnerships create redevelopment opportunities


Tualatin lacked a strong identity of its own and was in danger of becoming simply an ordinary suburb—that is, until a combination of circumstances and vision and hard work led to a solution: the development of a central place, a downtown, a civic "living room" on a 19-acre site.  This new city center has given Tualatin a unique and positive identity.  Its realization testifies to the power of a true public/private partnership.

     — Dave Leland




Associated Transportation Engineering & Planning.  November 16, 1992.  Transportation Analysis for Tualatin Commons Project.  City of Tualatin, Ore.

Bothwell, Pamela.  May 19, 1994.  "Not a typical boomtown," Tualatin Commons Commemorative Dedication Program.  The Tualatin Times:  Tualatin, Ore.

Campbell, Polly.  July 2, 1992.  "Commons project draws mixed feelings," The Tualatin Times:  Tualatin, Ore.

Campbell, Polly.  July 16, 1992.  "Dialogue with public about Commons sought," The Tualatin Times:  Tualatin, Ore.

Campbell, Polly.  August 5, 1993.  "Art consultant for Commons hired,"  The Tualatin Times:  Tualatin, Ore.

Development Offering Mix-Use Housing and Retail, Parcel No. 7, Tualatin Commons Urban Renewal Plan.  February 4, 1994.  See Properties:  Portland, Ore.

Editors.  January 25, 1990.  "Heart for a healthy city,"  The Oregonian:  Portland, Ore.

Editors.  May 19, 1994.  "URAC:  link to the community," Tualatin Commons Commemorative Dedication Program.  The Tualatin Times:  Tualatin, Ore.

Foyston, John.  January 29, 1990.  "Tualatin development gains support," The Oregonian:   Portland, Ore.

Foyston, John B.  November 10, 1992.  "Pupils draw visions of Tualatin Commons," The Oregonian:  Portland, Ore.

Foyston, John B.  March 16, 1993.  "Tualatin OKs logo, deadline for Commons," The Oregonian:  Portland, Ore.

Franzen, Robin.  May 27, 1993.  "'Clothing for the commoner' seeks to sell Tualatin Commons," The Oregonian:  Portland, Ore.

Franzen, Robin.  July 9, 1993.  "C'mon Tualatin, let's all celebrate," The Oregonian:  Portland, Ore.

Franzen, Robin.  October 21, 1993.  "Tualatin digs in for Commons' good," The Oregonian:  Portland, Ore.

Leland Consulting Group.  June 1992.  Market Analysis, Development Program & Financial Analysis.   For the City of Tualatin, Tualatin Commons:  Tualatin, Ore.

Leland, Dave.  November 1994.  "Tualatin Commons," Urban Land.  ULI-the Urban Land Institute:  Washington, DC.

McMillan, Dan.  November 19, 1992.  "Tualatin Commons makes comeback with new emphasis," Daily Journal of Commerce:  Portland, Ore.

Metro 2040 Framework Update.  Fall 1995/Winter 1996.  Metro:  Portland, Ore.

"Overall Objectives of Tualatin Commons," Information Packet.  January 5, 1993.  City of Tualatin, Economic Development Department.

Tualatin Central Urban Renewal Plan.  June 28, 1993.  City of Tualatin, Tualatin Development Commission.

"Tualatin Commons Community Survey:  A Selection of Comments and Ideas Expressed by the Citizens."  June 1990.  City of Tualatin, Economic Development Department.

Tualatin Commons Design Guidelines.  March 22, 1993.  City of Tualatin, Tualatin Development Commission.

"Tualatin Commons Public Costs/Private Reserves" Fact Sheet.  January 1993.  City of Tualatin, Economic Development Commission.

Young, Janet.  April 2, 1992.  "Tualatin has chance for special downtown," The Tualatin Times:  Tualatin, Ore.

Young, Janet.  February 22, 1994.  "Tualatin Commons:  A Suburban Success Story," paper presented to the 15th Annual IMCL Conference (Category: Creating Places).  San Francisco.




Governor's Livability Award for The Mews at Tualatin Commons

The Century Hotel

Tualatin Crawfish Festival

Tualatin Chamber of Commerce

Washington County


Livable Oregon



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