June 18, 2002 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Although the City of La Grande and ODS Health Plans are forging ahead in planning for a new complex at Fourth Street and Adams Avenue, bowling center owner Steve Rzonca won't go away.

ODS reached agreement last week with Safeway to purchase the old grocery store site for new ODS offices, a city library, state Employment Department offices and some retail.

But Rzonca, owner of the Rock Bowling and Fun Center, 2301 Cove Ave., envisions using the old Safeway building, expanded somewhat, as a 24-lane bowling center incorporated into a design that includes all the other factors.

Rzonca's plan would involve displacing the Sub Shop, which is on property the city owns, purchasing a vacant parking lot to the north, and closing off Fourth Street between the Safeway lot and the sandwich shop to vehicular traffic. In an interview, Rzonca did not say who would buy the parking lot nor how some aspects of the plan would be financed.

He has not lined up financing, he said, but said he already had inquiries from interested parties about the existing bowling center property. He said his moving forward on the project does not hinge on the sale of that property.

"Any contingencies could be surmounted without tremendous problems. I would have to lease or sell this building," he said about the existing bowling center.

If he is to be included in developing the downtown complex, the time is now, he said.

"This is a large, ambitious project, but I want to take advantage of this window of opportunity. I'm not trying to push ODS or the library out. My motivation is progress and prosperity."

Rzonca said he hoped to meet with ODS and city officials this week.

"ODS will hopefully let me know where they're at by the end of the week. We'll see what happens," he said.

ODS has referred all questions about the Fourth Street site to City Manager Wes Hare.

"My mission is to try to convince them it's in their best interest to allow my participation," Rzonca said. "In the long term, it'll be better for downtown. I'll bring thousands of people downtown. It will be better for me and for the community for me to be there with a 24-lane center."

In his rough drawings, he shows ODS in a two-story, 20,000-square-foot building facing Adams Avenue, the library occupying the spot where the Sub Shop and parking lot is, the adjacent Max Square downtown park expanded to double its present size and include an "artistic feature" and a lighted pedestrian walkway replacing the block of Fourth Street between Adams and Jefferson avenues.

The old Safeway building would be expanded to 38,000 square feet, Rzonca said. It now is 22,000 square feet and sits on 2.2 acres.

The Rzonca plan would include a 99-year lease of Union Pacific Railroad property on the north side of Jefferson Avenue for "overflow parking." Another lot would be used for employee parking, he said.

Rzonca has not talked to owners of Commercial Tire on Jefferson Avenue, whom he called a "key player" in any plan coming together.

"The question is, would they allow closure of Fourth Street."

The ODS plan, according to Hare, is to tear down the grocery store building and put up one or two buildings in an "L" shape, with one facing Adams and the other facing Fourth.

Rzonca said he would work with the Sub Shop to see that it is located at another nearby


"It's an ambitious plan, with three players, but it can be done. ODS says they are willing to listen and I have made an offer to them. They are discussing it with their board of directors," Rzonca said.

Rzonca said he had talked to engineers and architects about remodeling the vacant store. Now it's up to the willingness of the city and ODS, he said.

"If this doesn't come together, I'm not hostile. It's important to rally behind whatever happens there."

Hare, who has been the spokesman for both the city and ODS, indicated last week that ODS was willing to listen to Rzonca.