Industrial park opponents want Oregon to focus more on tourism

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Opponents of the possible development of a 400-acre industrial park in eastern Oregon asked city officials at a city council meeting on Monday to consider the value of conserving the environmentally sensitive area on which there are old growth forests, wetlands and eagles’ nests.
        Since June 14, when many property owners packed council chambers to express their opposition to the city’s attempts to acquire 400-acres of property for a proposed electric battery plant as part of an industrial park, an increasing number of them want the city to conserve the land.
        The electric battery plant fell through because the city could not get enough property owners to sell their land for the proposed 400-acre industrial park. Still, Mayor Mike Seferian said he will continue his efforts to develop an industrial park to expand the tax base because the city expects to lose up to $4 million in revenue and needs to find new industry to replace it.
        Kathy Ackerman, of S. Stadium Road. a member of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, said the city should tap into the enormous popularity of the annual “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” a 10- day festival in early May that celebrates the migration of songbirds from around the world to the Oregon area. The festival, sponsored by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, draws thousands of birders from around the world to not only observe the birds, but to take part in different workshops at the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center in Oregon. They can participate in guided birding trips, birding by canoe, daily walks at the world famous Magee Marsh, and other planned events. Oregon has been called “The Warbler capital of the world,” due to the annual influx of the songbirds.
        “The Biggest Week in American Birding all takes place right here,” said Ackerman, “the Warbler capital of the world. The festival headquarters is at our Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, with additional venders and activities at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. During part of April and the entire month of May, it’s almost impossible to get a room at the lodge. This festival brings in 90,000 birders to our area. They come from every state in the U.S., 52 countries and six continents. And while they are here, they spend nearly $40 million with local businesses. This all happens during a time when tourism in Oregon is slowest. Maumee Bay is thrilled to death to see these people come in. How can Oregon do better at this? If $40 million is being spent, how can Oregon tap into that?”
        The festival was canceled the last couple of years due to the pandemic, though virtual events were offered. When the festival returns next May, Ackerman said she expects more birders from around the world to attend.
        “It’s going to be huge,” she said. “There are going to be probably more people coming into the area than have been in the past because they couldn’t come last year. In order to continue to provide a world class birding experience that attracts birders from around the globe, we must be good stewards of the habitats that support these birds. This should include our wetlands, and therefore, yes, I’m against tearing down wetlands for parking lots. I feel that Oregon sometimes falls short. You’re looking for the big industry to come in. Maybe we need to have a number of smaller things that bring income in as well.”
        Seferian said the city has a hard time bringing in retail, which focuses on demographic breakdowns within a one, three and five mile radius “that we don’t have.”
        “All the little industry you talked about that we could get, we tried. It’s very tough to do. But we continue to try,” said Seferian. “Even going for this project, it got the city of Oregon recognized by site selectors. They now look at us a little more seriously. So even if we get nothing out there in the eastern part of Oregon, we still have some gain from going after the project.”
        Dr. Susan Orosz, of Brown Road, said the city should work on a strategic plan that draws tourists year round, not just during The Biggest Week in American Birding.
        “I think it would behoove all of you on council to think about a strategic plan,” said Orosz, one of the top 10 bird veterinarians in the country. “You have your name on a map of the entire world. Instead of a pass through destination, we should make Oregon a” come to stay for a week” destination. Not just during The Biggest Week in American Birding. I would suggest that you think about a strategic planning group that can work on that and build on that emphasis of tourism.”
        The Oregon Economic Development Committee will hold a public meeting on Thursday, July 22, at 4 p.m. to discuss land use and zoning issues, an update from the director of the Oregon Economic Development Foundation, and the Town Center.


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