ST. HELENS, Ore. — City leaders on Wednesday broke ground on their ambitious $15.7 million waterfront project that they say will bring economic growth to an area that has direct access to the Columbia River and a central -historic city.

Development on the St. Helens waterfront has been a city priority for decades, according to a city press release.

“It’s been a long process,” Mayor Rick Scholl said at the public ceremony marking the start of the projects. “The government is moving slowly. I say it all the time, but it’s gone. We are ready to start innovating.

Funded in part by grants and local dollars, these projects focus on 275 acres on two sites that once served as Boise Veneer Mill and Boise Paper Mill before they closed in the late 2000s. The city contracted with Moore Excavation Inc. as well as Otak Inc. as project engineer and Mayer/Reed Inc. as landscape architects.

A redesign of the intersection of South First and St. Helens streets will be a top priority to make it safer and more walkable, the news release said.

The city hopes to complete at least some of these development plans by the end of 2024, said public works director Mouhamad Zaher.

After that, the plan is to expand Cowlitz Street on the Riverfront property, the city said, including a roundabout to “seamlessly” connect to other upcoming projects that also focus on the increased foot traffic to nearby parks and attractions.

The city will also redesign Strand Street and make it safer, and plans to build a plaza to serve as retail space above Columbia View Park. Landscaping, creating new pathways and improving sidewalks around the two project sites are also part of the City’s vision.

In 2015, the city purchased the properties after recognizing the potential to use the scenic waterfront as a springboard for new businesses and developers, the city said in its press release.

“The whole city was involved in this project,” Scholl said. “This is going to bring change to our community – positive change.”

Part of the goal is to build a new stage for the Columbia View Park Amphitheater, though construction will begin later in 2023. Once those projects are complete, the city plans to move forward with the redesign and modernization of the local town centre.

“It will attract developers and economic development,” Zaher said. “It’s a great motivation for new businesses or new hotels to settle in the area.”