Rumors that Wells Fargo was about to close its downtown Albany branch had been circulating for weeks before the bank confirmed them Monday. The downtown urban renewal board will hold a closed-to-the-public meeting Wednesday to consider real estate transactions, and the idea of buying the building for its parking may well come up.
When I asked the branch manager about the closing last week, he claimed he didn’t know anything. But Monday’s mail brought a letter from district manager Shea Lorenz (no return address), telling customers the branch will close at 12 p.m. on Aug. 15. (Since the bank is always closed at midnight anyway, they apparently mean noon, but it’s not clear.)
The closing is no surprise to customers who would usually find themselves alone, except for one or two employees, in the building’s cavernous ground-floor space. It appears to be the result of banks pushing their account holders to do more of their transactions online.
The advisory board of CARA, the Central Albany Revitalization Area, scheduled an executive session as part of its monthly meeting, which starts at 5:15 Wednesday at City Hall. The reason for excluding the public from part of it, as allowed by state law, is to “conduct deliberations with persons designated by the governing body to negotiate real property transactions,” in the words of a guidebook by the League of Oregon Cities.
I don’t know which property the deliberations are supposed to be about. But according to the league’s guidelines, for an executive session to be legal, the deliberations have to be about specific properties. “The executive session may not be used as a general discussion of a city’s long-term property needs or goals,” the league tells its members.
One reason the Wells Fargo building may come up is its 32-space parking lot. It’s right across Ferry Street from the former and largely vacant St. Francis Hotel. Mayor Sharon Konopa and others have for years talked about restoring the St. Francis, owned by the Pride Printing Co., and its lack of off-street parking has been one stumbling block. (Though not the biggest one. The biggest stumbling block has been the cost of any renovation.)
Another possible candidate for CARA discussions: The Eagles lodge building on Water and Broadalbin, which is listed for sale with an asking price of $950,000.
The Wells Fargo branch, at 300 First Ave. W., used to be a five-story building, constructed around 1916 for the First National Bank. The top four floors were taken down decades ago. (I don’t know the date, but it was well before the first time I saw the bank, still the First National then, in 1977.)
What happens to the building when Wells Fargo is gone is one question. Another: Of the seven banks downtown today, will any be left when online banking is through with us? (hh)
Postcript: Reader Cordell Post was going trough some stuff when he came across a clipping from the Sept. 1, 1973, edition of the Albany Democrat-Herald. It reported on the removal of the top floors of the building, then about to begin, and the remodeling of the rest. The remodeled building was designed by Dave Costa, an Albany architect.