The East Portal in Sisters is one big step closer to being in City hands.

The Sisters City Council and its Urban Renewal Agency (URA) approved a purchase and sale agreement (PSA) with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) last week.

The 14.61-acre property is located at 460 West US 20, the eastern terminus of Highway 242, the McKenzie Highway. The parcel of land is bordered by Highway 20 to the northeast, West Hood Avenue to the west, and Highway 242 to the south.

All those streets are located on the property by easement comprising approximately 7.5 acres of the total acreage. The remaining acreage consists of parking, restroom facilities, a historical interpretive display, the Sisters Community Labyrinth, and a small trail system. The property has been owned by the USFS, and those improvements were constructed in 1997. Since then, the City and USFS have had a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City conducting maintenance of the facility during the months it is open, which align with McKenzie Pass on Highway 242 being open.

In 2018, one of the top 20 strategies that came out of the Sisters Country Vision was “Forest Service Property Development.” Since that time, the USFS parcel north of West Barclay Drive has been sold and is being developed as light industrial land. The large middle parcel has been sold for development of the Sisters Woodlands, including residential, mixed-use, open space, and light industrial zones. The part of the middle parcel containing the current ranger station has been retained by the USFS for construction of their new facility, including a 13,000-square-foot station and a new warehouse.

In April 2019, the City and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) sent a letter to the USFS indicating a strong interest in maintaining public ownership of the East Portal, citing strategic interests on the part of ODOT for the highway facilities to move from easement to ownership as right-of-way, and the remaining property to be owned by the City for a mobility hub and open space. The USFS utilized a direct sale approach through agents to work with the two entities, a very rare opportunity because the USFS almost never makes direct land sales. To streamline the process, the City has acted as the purchaser.

After the purchase of the full 14-plus acres is complete, ODOT will pay the City for their portion of the property, so the URA and the City will be reimbursed by ODOT for a portion of the $675,000 purchase price. Council and the URA both agreed that the long-term value of the property to the City far exceeds the price.

In November 2020, the City applied to ODOT for a grant through the Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund (STIF) to create a master plan for a mobility hub for multi-modal transportation uses including bikes, pedestrians, cars, and public transportation on part of the East Portal property. The City was notified in May 2021 that it was awarded $80,000 toward this effort. The funds are contingent on owning the East Portal or having a purchase option in place. These grant funds must be used by the end of June 2023. The City is currently advertising a request for proposals to bring a consultant on board for the master planning this spring and summer. City Manager Cory Misley is hopeful of having a contract in hand in about a month. He anticipates expanded amenities such as possible electric car charging stations, more off-street parking, ride sharing, and providing an essential link in localized and regional transportation.

“The mobility hub will be a nice addition to the City. We will definitely be mindful of the large trees on the property, saving all we can,” said Misley.

At the beginning of 2022, the City submitted an offer dated January 13 to the USFS to purchase the East Portal for $675,000. On January 28, the USFS responded they would like to proceed with the execution of a PSA for the offered price. On April 19, the USFS received approval from their Office of General Counsel for the PSA to move forward. Closing will occur at a mutually agreed upon date that is no later than June 30, 2022.

The funds from the sale of the property are not going to Washington D.C.; rather, they will remain in the community to help construct the new ranger station.