A hole sits empty and surrounded by a chain-link fence at Heritage Square.

The hole in the middle of Astoria celebrates its ninth anniversary this year.

Are we going to have a party on the 10th?

As we look around at the astonishing renaissance of our downtown, there is one piece that is missing.

For newcomers and people who may have forgotten, here is some background. Astoria used to have one of the smallest Safeway stores in the grocery chain’s inventory. It was a handy place for people who worked downtown to pick up groceries before heading home. Parking, and getting in and out onto Duane or Exchange streets, was always a pain. But we ignored that because it was convenient.

When Safeway moved and built an expanded new store on the east entrance of town, it was cause for celebration. The store brought more items, more variety and some convenient gas pumps. It also added good jobs.

The old store was demolished in 2005 and community leaders started talking about all sorts of ideas for redevelopment of the plaza. However, the concrete slab that covered the empty space began to fail in summer 2010 and then caved in after persistent rain that winter. The collapse made national news.

Since Safeway moved, there have been plenty of suggestions on what to do with this prime area at Heritage Square.

Clatsop Community College leaders participated in creative discussions some years ago, pondering a central campus or satellite classrooms, but went in a different direction. There was talk of a little amphitheater. A mixed-use project with housing and a library was nixed.

There must be something better than a gaping, ugly hole. Even more parking might be a solution.

Sooner or later, someone is going to fall into the pit and out-of-town lawyers are going to get rich suing the city.

We reported a year ago that major cleanup work to deal with contaminated soil in and around the hole is more or less complete.

So what gives?

The Garden of Surging Waves, which celebrates the Chinese community’s contribution to Astoria, went up to the west of the hole five years ago, on the corner of Duane and 11th Street.

Wrapping the chain-link fence to mask the hole with banners — so visitors aren’t put off — should have been a temporary solution rather than an annual ritual.

The redevelopment of Heritage Square has been a goal of the City Council, but the momentum is missing. The city’s difficulty in finding a new community development director is not a valid excuse.

So, City Hall: Fill the hole. Make it a priority.

It is an eyesore, an embarrassment to all. If we have to mark the 10th anniversary a year from now without a strategy the negative headline will be even bigger.

(1) comment

Graham Nystrom

I like the idea of an amphitheatre. Particularly nice would be a "shell" of sorts that would allow it to be consistenly used without weather being as big of an inhibitor. The shell could be architecturally appealing, and provide some versatility in use. It could house a year round market if people were interested in something like that. It would have ramps to make it accessible, of course. And it would be nice if whatever goes in there honors and helps to highlight the elegant historic character of Astoria and its 1920's downtown.

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