April 19, 2004 11:00 pm

Although the project hasn't been heralded by everyone in downtown, seeing work begin on La Grande's decade-old Bohnenkamp Hole is a welcome sight. Telos Development's plans to construct a new commercial and residential building on the property brings added investment and value to downtown

La Grande.

Getting something to happen on the site has been a goal for a decade. But not until Telos stepped up to take advantage of the city's offer to do something with the property did anything occur.

Of course, nothing happens without controversy, and Telos' plans to include apartments upstairs in the four-story, $4.8 million building generated plenty of that. Meeting parking needs for the future residents of what will become the N.K. West Building were at the heart of the controversy.

Without apartments, though, and some guarantee for parking, the hole would continue to exist. Filling multi-story buildings with retail space isn't feasible, as most downtown business owners will attest.

Like it or not, allowing mixed-use buildings — and the unfortunate byproduct of additional parking pressures — is the only way most communities have been able to succeed at urban renewal. Upgrading buildings, and in this case constructing an entirely new one, won't happen if communities insist that all downtown properties have to be retail-only.

The goal is urban renewal and making the downtown inviting. Bring in the people and the stores should follow. Other communities, as well as neighborhoods in large cities, are doing it. Parking is and always will be a concern. But if buildings and stores are inviting, the people will come — even if they have to walk a block or two.

Seeing something happen with the Bohnenkamp Hole is exciting. A building to fill the space is long overdue. A Keith O'Brien it won't be, but it will be an attractive new building with a ground-floor commercial space. And that is much preferable to a hole with a plywood fence

around it.

Editorials in this column are the opinion of The Observer's editorial board. The board is comprised of Ron Horton, publisher; Ted Kramer, editor; Jeff Petersen, news editor; and Pierre LaBossierre, wire editor. Letters from readers, signed columns on this page and cartoons represent the opinions of the writer/artist and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial board.