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July 6, 2013
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Editorial: Willis Park, gazebo should remain with historic home

Parks are important to cities. Residents need green, open spaces to keep them in touch with nature.

With a river running through Roseburg, expansive Stewart Park and the scenic beauty surrounding the city, this isn’t much of a concern for residents.

Still, park space shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s appropriate that the Roseburg Parks & Recreation Commission sincerely struggled with the decision to recommend selling Willis Park and its gazebo with the historic Willis House.

The Roseburg City Council should concur with the parks board when it takes up the issue later this summer.

The beloved Willis House, which was built in 1874 and served as City Hall from 1959 to 1972, has been on the market for a year.

Councilors reluctantly put it up for sale when its tenants announced they were vacating the building for the shiny new Umpqua Business Center. A yearlong search for buyers for the Rose Street building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, revealed the desire to include the 7,400-square-foot park and gazebo in the sale. That’s particularly appealing to a prospective buyer who’d like to turn the home into a bed and breakfast.

Such a use would be ideal with the home’s proximity to downtown Roseburg shops and restaurants. Having a spacious lawn and a gazebo where guests could have tea or simply relax sounds picture-perfect. Inclusion of the additional features should increase the value above the $185,000 asking price, netting more money for the city.

The loss of the park won’t be displacing any festivals or recurring events. City Manager Lance Colley said the small property doesn’t serve a significant public purpose.

The board rightfully acknowledged the city shouldn’t take a net loss in park acreage, however. It recommends investing one-quarter of the proceeds or $25,000, whichever is greater, into new park lands. To ensure the open space remains nearby, that sum could go toward the downtown plaza the city has contemplated establishing.

If that idea doesn’t advance, the money could go toward a new neighborhood park when the housing market rebounds further and new home subdivisions start popping up again.

One of the compelling reasons for the city to sell the Willis House was the desire to get it into private ownership, so it could be cared for and maintained. City councilors feared leaving it sitting empty could allow it to fall into disrepair. Now that the building has been vacant for a year and real estate prices on are on the rise, it’s definitely time to consider moves that will make it more attractive to prospective purchasers.

Restrictions designed to keep the land park-like and enhance the surroundings of the Willis House should be included in any sales agreement.

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The News-Review Updated Jul 6, 2013 06:53PM Published Jul 6, 2013 05:28PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.