Heritage Square is a vibrant yet simple plan for a civic and cultural area in downtown Bend. In the middle, a large public green space would lie between Wall Street and Bond Street. Around the square would be City Hall, the Historical Museum, the library, a play area and small businesses.
Heritage Square was first discussed in the mid-1990s and by 2001, the Bend Development Board had studied, calculated and planned an urban renewal area that included a central community gathering place as the linchpin. Shoring up the city center's character, culture and history now and preserving the core of the city for future generations remains a straightforward vision for Bend. Beyond being a best-use of the area, it has the added advantage of increasing tax revenue from downtown as a result of higher property values.
Twenty years after it was first proposed and 15 years following the formal study, it would appear that little stands in the way of making Heritage Square a reality. Essentially, the piece of land needed to get things underway is owned by the Bend- La Pine School District and is currently used as a parking lot. It's a good notion that as a growing metropolis, Bend would benefit from setting aside the heart of downtown for Heritage Square. Thus far, the land still has not been developed for another purpose, and it would appear to be a matter of simply bringing the three key governmental players to the table for collaboration, namely: the Bend - La Pine School District, Bend Parks and Recreation and the City of Bend.
However, the school board's desire to sell Troy Field to a private developer shows a fundamental lack of cooperation for the longterm vision of Heritage Square. Hence, what was once considered an uncomplicated task of unfettered acquisition is quickly becoming more difficult, yet with far-sighted leadership, it is still possible. Before development of this area continues any further, the time to take action on Heritage Square is today.
In December 2015, Bend 2030, a group of civic and business leaders, sent a letter of inquiry to the Bend - La Pine School Board, copying the Bend Parks and Recreation District and the Bend City Council. At least one of the three parties is interested in seeing the plan through to completion. The Bend City Council's Goals and Workplan for 2015 to 2017, updated and presented on Feb. 16, includes developing a Heritage Square vision concept to promote downtown with business, housing, civic services, arts and cultural opportunities.
The recent hearings for Troy Field show that the School Board is challenged with budget shortfalls and would like to sell its downtown property that it considers surplus. This willingness to sell off downtown property could be seen as a good thing if either the City of Bend or BPRD comes to the table with a market value offer for the school district. Twenty years is long enough to wait. Times have changed, but Bend's need for a vital downtown with devoted greenspace, civic area and expanded cultural opportunities has only increased. Let's bring the dream of Heritage Square into reality, before it's too late.