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Ashland picks firm to design fixed-up Calle Guanajuato

ASHLAND -- A divided park commission chose a Eugene-based firm Wednesday to design the renovation of Calle Guanajuato over a much higher-priced Portland-based team.

If we are going to spend $50,000 more on a firm when they are both great, what will the public think of that? commissioner Laurie McGraw asked before the vote.

The New Year's Day flood of 1997 badly damaged Calle Guanajuato -- a broad paved alley parallel to Ashland Creek located behind Plaza restaurants and stores. The walkway is used for a outdoor restaurant dining, and a crafters market during the summer.

The Eugene-based team of Cameron McCarthy Gilbert, which won the bid to design the renovation, includes former Ashland Planning Director John Fregonese. Fregonese, who didn't attend the meeting, will lead public participation in the project.

Park commissioners said they also were impressed by the team's idea guy, landscape architect William Wenk, who showed slides of some of his past projects, including a waterfront park in Breckenridge, Colo. Other members of the team had worked in Ashland before.

I just like them, McGraw said. We could visualize their creative ideas ... they know Ashland ... and they are trustworthy.

The project will cost $49,000. When commissioners sought bids for the project, they expected to pay between $25,000 and $40,000 for the design. A committee that went through the bids, however, selected the two firms for the commission to review and both had higher price tags.

The Portland-based firm -- Perron Collaborative -- bid $97,500.

Yet, commissioners JoAnne Eggers and Rick Landt voted against the motion to hire the less expensive Cameron McCarthy Gilbert. Eggers said she felt Perron Collaborative had a better plan for public participation and was in a different league than Cameron McCarthy Gilbert.

Landt said he thought the commission wouldn't get what it wanted for $49,500. He noted $28,000 of the difference between the two firms would have been used for public participation.

Some of the previous projects the Eugene-based firm has done in Ashland are designing the upper duck pond in Lithia Park and the Black Swan Courtyard on East Main Street.

During his company's presentation, Brian McCarthy stressed how important Calle Guanajuato was to the community. He noted it's where downtown and Lithia Park converge. People from the theater also use the area.

What comes together in this place is a magical community, McCarthy said, — ... then there's the creek. It is the heart. It is the soul. It is why we are coming together.

Everything we do should enhance that resource.

Wenk said while flood control and function would be important in his ultimate design, beauty and accessibility also are critical.

Aesthetics aren't lipstick on the pig, he said.

The Calle Guanajuato project is schedule to break ground in less than a year. Public participation should begin this summer.