A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

A new look at planned downtown project

Written September 16th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

Varitone Architecture’s rendering of the former bank branch with three floors of apartments added.

Gerding Builders expects to follow through on its plan to turn the former Wells Fargo Bank branch in downtown Albany into a commercial and residential complex. That was the gist of part of Wednesday’s session of the downtown renewal advisory board.

Back in May, the Albany Revitalization Agency, made up of the city council, approved $2.9 million in financial aid to Gerding Companies Inc. for buying and then building up the former Wells Fargo property.

On Wednesday the advisory board of CARA, the Central Albany Revitalization Area, got an update along with new renderings of what the project is intended to look like.

The board heard from CEO Monte Smith and President Ryan McAlister of Gerding, a company that has done many big Albany projects, and Christina Larson of Varitone Architecture, an Albany firm.

The Gerding men said that lawyers should be finished soon with the development agreement the city and the builders have been working on. On the site, additional soil testing is scheduled in the next two weeks. The construction budget is being updated.

The agreement will come before the advisory board and the ARA on Oct. 20 for final approval, said Seth Sherry, the city’s economic development manager.

The ARA bought the building at 300 West First Ave. in January 2019 for $1.5 million after Wells Fargo closed the branch the previous summer. Under the agreement now in the works, ARA will loan Gerding $900,000 to buy the property and give the company $2 million toward the cost of redeveloping it, expected to top $10 million.

The building is to be expanded westward and topped with three stories of apartments.

Of the design, CARA board member Russ Allen said he had expected something that would blend in more with existing old buildings downtown. But another board member, architect Bill Ryals, praised Larson for the job she had done on the difficult challenge of fitting a new building on top of the existing one.

The idea of a rooftop restaurant has been dropped. Larson said the building code treats such a feature as an additional story, and building another floor was not in the cards. (hh)

In the daytime, the corner of First Avenue and Broadalbin Street would look like this.


33 responses to “A new look at planned downtown project”

  1. Bill says:

    “the city council, approved $2.9 million in financial aid to Gerding Companies Inc. for buying and then building up the former Wells Fargo property”
    2.9M for Gerding but they had to add a fee to our water bill which is already considerably higher than what all the PHD’s, professionals and academics pay next door in Corvallis.

    OK ,…now’s the time for someone to chime in and tell us all how this 2.9M came from a different fund entirely…It’s apples and oranges and that stupid taxpaying citizens should keep their mouths shut and their wallets open….yea yea yea…save it.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Gerding has been in business for over 50 years. They are very successful. They have extensive financial resources and bank relationships.

    One of their core values is “Profits are maximized to reinvest in the companies and our people.”

    Good for them.

    So why is CARA giving them millions?

    By the city’s own admission, CARA is supposed to be a “lender of last resort.” Did CARA make Gerding show an inability to self-fund the $2M or borrow the $900k from a private bank? If so, please reveal it.

    And average rents of $1,350+. Can you say “gentrification”?

    Gerding shouldn’t sully its good name by becoming just another crony capitalist feeding at the public trough.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Tom Gerding has been on the Citizen’s Bank Board of Directors since 2018.

      It will be extremely hard for him to convince anyone that his company can’t take the risk and must resort to CARA as a “lender of last resort.”

      Or, the city is lying about CARA and its role as a provider of liquidity.


  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    300 1st Ave. SW is listed on Albany’s inventory of historic properties.

    Please tell us those aren’t vinyl windows.

    Please tell us this rehab will be done in accordance with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.

    Please tell us the Landmarks Commissars will ensure that this project will properly preserve Albany’s history.

  4. Kate Huber says:

    At first glance at the photo I thought it was the low income apartment complex on 3rd and Calapooia. Can’t we be more creative and unique?

    • Jacobin Hanschlatter says:

      Sorry, but when the “developer” must rely on taxpayer dollars for backing, then creativity flies out the window. If you want something creative, publicly funded is not the way to go.

  5. Jake Jaques JJ Johnny Hartman says:

    Simply more Socialism…with wealthy, white-owned businesses benefiting.
    Who says Socialism doesn’t work?

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      So if a BIPOC-owned business had made a winning proposal to do the work, you be perfectly happy with it…

      • Jake Jaques JJ Johnny Hartman says:

        If, as Shadle says about Gerding Construction, “They are very successful. They have extensive financial resources and bank relationships.” is true, then why do taxpayers float loans and/or grants to these folks?

        Socialism for wealthy, white corporations seems an accurate description of what’s going on here.

        • Francois DeLacroix says:

          Karl Marx noted: “”From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”

      • Jake JJ Jack Johnny Hartman says:

        Most preferable: Let the highly successful, private construction company actually take some risk and do the work after borrowing the dough from a bank who fully expects to be repaid…not government moneis supplied by taxpayers who mostly do NOT care whether or not there’s another 3-story building in downtown renting very expensive apartments to very well-off folks who don’t need anymore subsidies than those already plentiful.

  6. Jill Morgan says:


  7. Bill Kapaun says:

    It’s just City Hall’s effort to keep the slums out of their neighborhood. NIMBY

    • Bob Woods says:

      Downtown WAS a slum. Now it’s not.

      It’s hard for me to understand how people like you see that as a bad thing. Property values UP. Nice places to shop, dine or do business. Buildings look nicer and at least one that might have fallen down is useful.

      Do you hate the Carousel too?

      • Steven Reynolds says:

        Bob, I agree and I think that’s the point Councilor Olsen is making. staff member Sherry made the pitch that infrastructure spending is appropriate for CARA, he’s relying on the opinion of other government entitles to back his argument, I’m not sure if that’s not the fox guarding the henhouse, but can you really make the case that’s it’s appropriate for using CARA funds? It doesn’t fall in line with how TIF has been marketed or the whole original concept of CARA, Councilor Olsen seems to want to use it strictly to combat blight and fix buildings that are “falling” down. where as others have expanded the definition and included improvements that have an indirect economic benefit, non tangible benefits. I’m back and forth, perhaps if I saw a model from CARA that showed an increase in revenue to the city as a result of these infrastructure projects then we could make the case that a project was justifiable. For instance, if the waterfront project has a certain amount of CARA funds spent on it, what is the expected rate of return on those funds and how does that compare to what TIF funds would bring in? If we spent the same amount of money on blight and collected the difference between the assessed value and the improvements that are added on to a tax bill, the part that is actually TIF, what is the comparison? I don’t have enough information to really have a strong opinion, I have never felt comfortable with the whole idea of we just have to do it and see what happens or “t’s government you can’t look at it like there’s a return on investment” which I have heard many a times..

        One issue that we have currently is the whole, “if you build it they will come” concept, that works as long as what you’re building fits within a certain balance of what the economy can afford. Case in point, I think the restaurants (and others) are really struggling covering their downtown expenses and I don’t know what their model looks like going forward. I think they’re still operating on a 2019 model and even that model still had a tough time downtown, what is the balance point that a restaurant or other businesses can survive with a normal level of competency for Albany, OR? I’ll be curious to see the specifics on the new St. Francis proposal, a lot of what that tells us is how healthy the economy is, if it’s almost all public funding then that’s a big red flag, It’s kind of like this Wells project where the developer is not going to do anything until they make absolutely sure they’re not going to be upside down. They have an absolute limit that they believe the market will support and anything above that is the subsidy. That percentage of the subsidy will give us an idea of how much out of balance the downtown economy really is.

        • Bob Woods says:

          Here’s a link to the State Statute that was enacted over 50 years ago…..
          The first two items states:
          “(1)That there exist within the state blighted areas.
          (2)That such areas impair economic values and tax revenues.”

          Economic rehabilitation is the foremost intent of Urban Renewal Districts in Oregon. There are pages more in the state statutes that anyone can read at their leisure.

  8. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Some folks here seem to have a belief that Gerding will not have any risk simply by the fact they are using existing tools to try and offset some of that risk. They are/will be taking a HUGE risk if it fails. And, they are shouldering the lion’s share of that risk: “Under the agreement now in the works, ARA will loan Gerding $900,000 to buy the property and give the company $2 million toward the cost of redeveloping it, expected to top $10 million.”

    I get that the normal handful of folks here have a palpable disdain for anything around TIF and especially CARA. I’ll also state that your classic ROI metric is a non-starter as it is not part of the equation when doing infrastructure per se. Never has been and never should be IMO.

    Thankfully, some folks aka Gerding, Lepmans, etc. can see a bright future for Albany by doing projects inside the CARA.

    • Steven Reynolds says:

      I thought the whole premise for CARA was blight and it was financed through TIF. We are all watching Gerding and Lepman and anyone else that’s attempting a project downtown. I’m sure they are being extremely careful down to the penny, they’re probably even hedging contracts to lock in pricing at this point just to create some certainty.

      I do not have an answer for CARA as an infrastructure tool and the ROI metric isn’t relevant. I like the idea of the waterfront project but if we spend $20 million dollars on what is essentially a park, how do we pay for the expenses to operate it if there’s no revenue side of the income statement? Where does the revenue come from? Do we just keep increasing the city utility fee every time there’s another deficit in expenses? There doesn’t seem to be a business plan for this project after it’s built.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        Street & Park maintenance have always been part of the city’s “Strategic Plan.” How that plays out over the long-term with priorities established unfolds over the years with the bi-annual budget process.

        • hj.anony1 says:

          but but but go back to SR’s opening sentence. “I thought the whole premise for CARA was blight and it was financed through TIF.”

          Great comment. Now we have drifted into …not nation building…. but Downtown Building.

    • Jake Jaques JJ Johnny Hartman says:

      This argument says nor does nothing to refute CARA as barely-disguised form of Socialism largely benefiting white, male, well-to-do businesses – the prinicple benefactors of CARA monies.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        Since you didn’t answer my 1st question, I’ll restate it. Exactly why is it “benefiting white, male well-to-do businesses” when it is (and always has been) open to any anyone to apply via the process allowed for CARA.ARA.?

        Could it be that there are no BIPOC businesses or personages here who can do so? Why is that?

        Too many folks like to tear down successful people & businesses, but applaud successful entrepreneurs on their way up…

        • Jake Jaques JJ Johnny Hartman says:

          Since you have “staff”, it would be relatively simple for you to put together a list of CARA- Funded “Winners,” those who were awarded grants/loans or any monies in any form from CARA/ARA. It would be revealing to know which of the many possible dollars were NOT awarded to white, male-operated companies…companies NOT interested in Socialism.
          The proof of concept is in the pudding.

      • Bob Woods says:

        It’s not socialism.

        Socialism is where the community OWNS the means of some kind of economic production. The best example are local hospitals, run as non-profit corporations with NO stockholders only a board of citizen directors. Food co-op’s, farmer co-op’s and Employee-Owned businesses, like the WINCO grocery chain are kind of in the middle.

        CARA is about replacing/upgrading run-down, derelict, properties and infrastructure which are underperforming, and bringing back a vibrant, pleasant area that make the city stronger economically, and provides opportunity for economic profits, that result in increased value and tax generation for the entire city.

        Ultra Conservatives hate that. For the single reason that government is involved.

        They are fine with rot and decay, because that makes them feel ideologically pure.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      I see a brighter future when a former private property is purchased and re-developed by a private company using private money at their own risk (huge or otherwise is irrelevant) without extending their hand, palm up, to CARA for public money.

      This situation can be boiled down to – privatize all of the profits, socialize a significant portion of the risk of loss.

      But given the way you on the council manage money, nobody should be surprised by the screwed up priorities you apply.

  9. Birdieken says:

    Seems strange to put money in a perfectly okay building, when dilapidated properties are all around downtown. It’s like buying the boat before the truck. This project is a want not a need, same with the water front project. This is only the end of the beginning of the tax money they’ll need to fix downtown properties. Are the downtown renovations in the best interest of the citizens overall or just select individuals with downtown interests?

  10. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    The legal and political justification for CARA leans heavily on an overarching public purpose: the elimination of “blight.” But what exactly is “blight”?

    State law (ORS 457) seems clear. A blighted area has certain characteristics that cause it to be “detrimental to the safety, health or welfare of the community.”

    The state goes on to declare that “such areas cause an increase in and spread of disease and crime and constitute a menace to the health, safety, morals and welfare of the residents of the state…”

    Can it be shown with data that giving Gerding millions of dollars alleviates crime? Does effectively replacing a functioning building eliminate a menace to our morals and welfare? Will this new building improve our health? Of course not.

    Through many of its spending actions CARA and its cheerleaders like Ray K and Bob Woods have rendered “blight” a useless concept.

    • Steve Reynolds says:

      I think we’re making progress Gordon at least we can agree there’s some value to the concept of CARA. I think we can also agree that the St. Francis is “blight”. You either spend to bring it back to usable condition (which is outside what the market can support) or you tear it down which is what the market supports, it’s not functional in any way in its current state. Is it historical enough that it deserves to be salvaged? Once it’s gone you can’t bring it back, I always enjoy the Halloween tour in the trolley where they tell the stories from the past about what happens in these buildings, it’s very interesting. HH is also a great resource for information, I hope he would sometimes change hats from blogger to story teller and tell some of the wealth of stories he has, I wonder if he has a good one regarding the St. Francis. Is it a building or a story?

      As far as Wells goes, that’s a judgement call if it’s “blight” or not and if the plan for the rehab is worth it. I would tend to agree that the rehab is kind of bland, adding a roof top restaurant would make the whole project stand out, but again you would have to take from some other project.

      Overall I think the downtown is 100 times better than what it was, the tools are there, now it really comes down to organizations like the ADA that controls the marketing end of the project (how to use these tools) and how to create enough of a balance that a normal business owner with competent skills can survive. Start putting the business plan together.


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