A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

A new plan to save the St. Francis and then some

Written October 21st, 2021 by Hasso Hering

A sharp-angled view tonight of the St. Francis at First Avenue (right) and Ferry Street (left).

Scott Lepman, the Albany real estate investor and developer who has tackled several big restoration projects, has come up with an even bigger one. His organization will save the former St. Francis Hotel downtown and also restore the former city hall building if the urban renewal district, CARA, will help him lower the financial risk.

The CARA advisory board and then the city council acting as the Albany Revitalization Agency (ARA) on Wednesday unanimously agreed to enter into an agreement with Lepman to carry out his plan.

The actual agreement has yet to be worked out and will probably come up at the next ARA meeting on Nov. 17. The financial angle is that for these projects, the city hall and St. Francis, Lepman would receive $750,000 each as a forgivable loan (at $75,000 per year for 10 years) to subsidize interest payments on the bank financing he’ll arrange.

The total, $1.5 million, is about half of the financial aid CARA had committed to the St. Francis restoration alone before the developer of that venture dropped out last month.

The city has an option to buy the St. Francis. Under the proposal ARA will transfer the purchase option to Lepman before it runs out in December. After that, Pride Printing, which has owned the building for decades, has up to six months to move out.

Lepman, his brother Spencer and their crews have restored several abandoned or neglected buildings for apartments, starting with Jefferson Lofts on Water Avenue, the first apartment project helped by CARA.

Scott laid out his plans at Wednesday’s virtual online meeting of the CARA board. (I missed the meeting but listened to the 97-minute audio on Thursday.)

The gist is that with CARA’s help on the interest payments, the Lepmans would rebuild the St. Francis and old city hall, presumably as residences and some commercial space. When the city hall is done, they would move their office there and demolish the former Sears Roebuck warehouse where the Lepman companies are based now, at Water and Ferry. With the building demolished, they are considering replacing it with an eight-story hotel and apartments.

As I understood it, the hotel idea is tentative and depends on the city building a parking structure, perhaps on the city-owned parking lot on the north side of Water Avenue.

Lepman told the CARA board that with his crew’s long experience in dealing with unexpected problems in old buildings, the construction risks of the St. Francis looked manageable to him. But he would need help with the financial risks. Hence the interest subsidy the board endorsed.

Last month it looked like the St. Francis was a lost cause. Now it’s not. (hh)

The “Old City Hall,” which the Lepman operation also wants to rehabilitate.

And here’s the look of a potential Lepman hotel/apartment block on Water Avenue.

10 responses to “A new plan to save the St. Francis and then some”

  1. Bob Woods says:

    Scott Lepman has certainly shown an ability to make projects work.

    Good luck to him.

    • Sherri says:

      I’m new to the area, especially in voting and different areas. Still learning and willing to do my part for the greater good, of us who live here. I was thankful to see Cumberland saved.
      What I have now is who is CARA? What do they do? Where is the help from the commissioners?

  2. RDjourney says:

    It would be amazing if the majority of non-profits offices could move to the old city hall and be centrally located. I walk by it everyday and just love that architecture.
    I St Francis building has affordable apartments sign me up!! Working and living in beautiful downtown Albany would be perfect!!

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    This is called lemon socialism, where a private company is allowed to keep any profits on a project but a significant portion of the risk of loss is shifted to taxpayers.

    It’s the Albany way of free market capitalism – hand out, palm up.

  4. Craig says:

    I would be interested in hearing more about the Old City Hall and Jail.

  5. CHEZZ says:

    Well, YAY! Viable projects that make Downtown Albany a happening place! Let’s go!

  6. Jeff Senders says:

    CARA just saved one and a half million if the deal goes through. Perhaps they can then put that money aside to pay the proposed hotel/apartments first 6 months City Water Bill.

  7. Steven Michael Anderson says:

    Not sure if this is the right location, but I’d like to see city pilot a Burlington Model housing project, where city retains ownership of the land and developer is sold the building with a lifetime lease. This model has been shown to keep rents affordable, as the assets being “recovered” through rent are limited to the depreciable building. It promotes reinvestment in the structure for the same reason.

    By retaining ownership of the land where the building sits, developers are prevented from cashing out increased land values which are a direct result of municipal investment in ongoing systems developments which are funded by taxpayers, or neighboring public works like whatever city ends up doing with the neighboring former Wells Fargo site.

    Maybe St. Francis is the right opportunity to try this. Maybe not.

  8. MK says:

    I’d really, really appreciate affordable condos in Albany. Especially single level options or good elevators. Affordable means $100K – $200K. They can be small with clever storage and efficiency. They should cost less than a small home in Albany. Some for 55+ also would be great.


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