University of Oregon architecture students on Wednesday presented ideas to Albany city officials concerning ways to revitalize the city's downtown area.

The presentations were part of the annual Sustainable Cities Year Program, which selects one city and then provides 500 students from multiple academic disciplines, along with their faculty, to complete between 15 to 20 projects for that city, ranging from parks planning to community outreach, for a total cost of about $250,000.

The 7-year-old program has included Medford, Salem, Gresham, Springfield, the greater Portland area and Redmond. Albany’s program began in late September.

The students were charged with designing plans to repurpose the J.C. Penney building, the downtown post office and the St. Francis Hotel. Keeping with the theme "Eat, Shop, Play," they shared their designs for a multi-use market and dining venue, a performing arts center, and a mixed-use shopping and residential building, respectively.

Student Steven Liang shared his plans for the J.C. Penney building: a shopping and dining venue with space for farmers markets and rooftop areas for socializing.

"My goal was to energize and vitalize the Water Avenue area," he said, adding that he wanted to design a picture of a congruous city.

Next up, student Alan Zandy showed his concept for the hotel, which was a mixed-use shops and apartment space with an open atrium in the center and rooftop areas for socializing and garden space.

Both students were asked what their projects would cost, and being architecture students, both explained that the scope of their classroom projects did not allow for such calculations. When Albany resident Hasso Hering pressed for a ballpark figure, Zandy replied, "A lot of money."

 His response brought down the house.

Concerning the post office, student Karin Ziv shared her concept for a performing arts center that would seat between 300 and 400 people, and accommodate a restaurant and studio spaces. The round, almost Frank-Gehry-style venue would stand adjacent to the Albany Historic Carousel & Museum. For this reason, Ziv designed landscaping areas that would attract visitors to and from both venues.

"I like to design for a specific location," she said. "So if I pick it up and plop it down in another location, it wouldn't really work the same. So I think this center would work very well, and I would be really excited should you decide to build it."

While the students were allowed to design free of any real budget constraints, bring their ideas to fruition, in one form or another, is possible, according to parks and recreation Department Director Ed Hodney.

"Because these new ideas are so exciting, it turns us in different directions," he said. "This is an opportunity to bring some very creative and youthful ideas. For my part, this has been extremely energizing, and it's still fairly safe because we haven't committed to buying anything."

Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net

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