As a young girl, Sue Fountain spent many a winter's day ice skating on Troy Field, across the street from what was then Bend High School. When the weather sunk below freezing, firefighters would fill the field with water to build a skating rink layer by layer, she recalls in her memoir "Too Cold to Snow."
Though the 0.8 acre patch of grass on NW Bond no longer sees skaters in winter, it does host an array organized and casual activities—from youth sporting events and political rallies, to locals playing with their dogs or making snow angels. But recently, it's been a less literal playground for a debate about Bend's future.
"The question is, and it's a personal opinion: What's the highest use of that property?" notes Bend-LaPine School Board member Andy High. Drawing on his experience as a member of the Residential Technical Advisory for the Urban Growth Boundary process, he says that Troy Field's future is bound up in divergent perspectives about whether the downtown core should prioritize high-density development or green space. In a Source poll, 59 percent of readers favored green space, with about 27 percent opting for retail or mixed use.
And now, as citizens face the potential loss of the de facto park, they are simultaneously drawn to a decades-old plan to increase the green space in downtown Bend: Heritage Square.
First dreamed up in the mid 1990s, Heritage Square was a latecomer to the City's Master Plan, recalls Patty Stell, who served as the city recorder and assistant to the city manager until 2011. The 2001 Central Bend Development Program Area Plan set out, among other goals, to "create a town square character by maintaining and developing cultural, historic and entertainment resources."
The idea was to turn the parking lots between City Hall and the Bend-La Pine School District administration building into a public square, boxed in by the Downtown Bend Library to the west and a mixed-use development where Troy Field is now to the east. Acquisition of the land needed to create the square—the larger portion of which is owned by the school district—was set for 2002.
But that never happened.
"It's really always been a concept to be teased out further," Stell says. "It never got past the conceptual plan phase."
Ultimately, other issues took priority, and Heritage Square didn't gain sufficient traction before the money ran out. Even so, some progress was made toward the plan. Urban renewal funds helped the library move to its current location, and put a new roof on the building that once housed the Bend Amateur Athletic Club (now the Boys & Girls Club), she says.
Interest in the concept re-emerged in 2010, Stell recalls. But once again, it failed to take hold. Despite these false starts, Special Projects Director for the City Brad Emerson says Heritage Square isn't necessarily a pipe dream.
"Every once in a while, whenever there's talk about downtown public spaces, people remember Heritage Square," Emerson says. "It's alive in people's memories. I've never heard anyone propose that area be developed as anything other than public space."
Though the square's meal ticket has expired, Emerson adds, "That doesn't mean [Heritage Square] can't be revived."
Its best chance of success, he says, is through a public-private partnership similar to the one being proposed in conjunction with Mirror Pond.
"A lot of what's happening on the river is because people are looking for a bigger solution to what's happening downtown," Emerson says, pointing out that Bend's downtown is "kind of undersized" for a city of 80,000.
A partnership is beneficial, he explains, not only because it provides an injection of funding, but also because public squares surrounded by only governmental buildings lack vitality.
"Usually, ones surrounded by public entities are completely dead," he says. "You have to be careful to reinforce activity so it stays safe."
Emerson adds that the space planned for Heritage Square is larger than Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, suggesting that there would be ample space for retail and other uses along the edges.
However, even if someone were to champion a revival of Heritage Square, it would not be a quick process. New plans would likely need to be drawn up—particularly ones accounting for displaced parking—and funding secured.
While many of those opposed to the potential sale of Troy Field to developers—key word, "potential," as the district has received no offers yet—say they would be OK with losing the field if Heritage Square came to fruition, they are concerned about the timeline and the potential tradeoffs.
"A civic plaza could be a lovely part of the core of our city, but exactly what that would look like is unclear. I love seeing the tykes play in the dancing fountain in Redmond. Until we see the new plaza in place I would hate to lose the only playing field downtown. It is treasured by the many groups that use it," says Councilor Barb Campbell. "I think it would be ironic to lose a piece of our heritage in order to construct a Heritage Square."