A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

At the old OER depot, envisioning the future

Written June 13th, 2022 by Hasso Hering

This, Matt Bennett says, will be an outdoor dining area when Sybaris operates in the old OER depot.

It’s hard to imagine now what the old Oregon Electric Railway depot in Albany will be like once it has been fully restored and Sybaris Bistro has moved in. But Matt Bennett can imagine it very well, and he explained his ideas to me this week.

Matt and Janel Bennett, owners of Sybaris, bought the historic railway depot at 133 Fifth Ave. S.E. and plan to move their restaurant there. But first the building, the main part of which dates from 1912, has to be remodeled and its historic aspects restored.

The place had housed Ciddici’s Pizza and video poker for close to 30 years. The heavy pizza oven is gone, but a lot of other stuff from the previous use is still waiting to be moved out.

Here’s the outline of what Bennett sees.

The former waiting room will be the main dining area. But there will also be outdoor dining on what was the original train platform along Fifth Avenue, and on a separate patio facing Lyon Street.

A separate room in the original building was an office during the early days and the video poker parlor in recent years. It will become a dining room that can be closed for meetings where confidentiality is desired.

The west side of the complex along Lyon Street is not part of the original depot. That’s where groups including newspaper employees from the nearby Democrat-Herald held pizza parties and other celebrations (including my farewell from the paper in 2012). This wing will become the Sybaris kitchen.

In the back of the building, where Ciddici’s made pizza, Bennett envisions a small bar designed for guests who just want to stop in for a snack and a drink.

To shield the outdoor dining area from traffic noise, Bennett is thinking of a hedge along the Lyon Street and Fifth Avenue sidewalks.

The main entrance to the restaurant will be the eastern arched door on Fifth. The main door to the pizza place, an easy connection between the future kitchen and outdoor tables, will be for servers.

Outside, near the corner of Fifth and Lyon, there’s an unpaved patch of green. Bennett, always the chef thinking of ingredients, sees an herb garden there.

This is the broad outline. All the details of what will have to be done to the building haven’t been fully explored. For example, the old depot has wooden gutters that will pose a restoration challenge.

Bennett says the gutters were one of the factors that got the project approved for a state historic restoration grant of $200,000. (On our walk around the building Sunday, we were both pretty sure that the Albany Landmarks Commission would not approve replacing the wooden gutters with vinyl.)

In May, Bennett and his architect, Bill Ryals, asked the Albany Revitalization Ageny (ARA) for an $800,000 loan from the CARA urban renewal program to help with the depot restoration.

The city council, which acts as the ARA, took no action then. But the matter may come up again when first the CARA advisory board and then the ARA/council meet starting at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday (June 15) at City Hall.

Regardless of financing, the transformation won’t happen overnight. Bennett has talked about Sybaris being open in the depot some time in 2023. (hh)

The waiting room of the former depot. Ciddici’s stuff has yet to be moved out.


13 responses to “At the old OER depot, envisioning the future”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    “Regardless of financing…….being open in the depot some time in 2023.”

    You’ve probably made the case that this project fails urban renewal’s “but for” test.

    The use of Tax Incremental Financing (TIF), being public money, can only be justified where a proposed project will not happen “but for” the giving of public money to a private developer.

    Has Bennett proven this to be the case?

    If CARA/ARA has any integrity, they should deny giving $800,000 of public money because of the apparent “but for” failure you inadvertently revealed.

  2. Patty O'furniture says:

    Who cares? There is more important things going on right now more newsworthy than this garbage.

    • John Boydston says:

      If you knew how much time, energy and money Sybaris has given and donated to this community, you might feel differently!

      • centrist says:

        JB and PO’
        Events above the local level are covered by forty-‘leven outfits.
        HH covers local items, often literally, at street level.
        There’s a prize in pretty much every package.
        Just sayin’

  3. CHEZZ says:

    It is such a historical and interesting structure. The interior for the most part is in pretty good shape. It will be the jewel at 5th and Lyon!

  4. Carolee Gascoigne says:

    How wonderful this beautiful building will be restored and used as as a restaurant and public place.
    Keeping our historic heritage alive is so important

  5. Pat Kight says:

    I’ve been waiting to hear more about this ever since the news first came out. I look forward to the time when we can enjoy fine dining there!

  6. Bill Kapaun says:

    The sure sign of a decaying downtown. Stores that only sell meals & trinkets. NOT stuff that people actually need like clothes & hardware.

    • Abe Cee says:

      To be fair, they are really just relocating in the downtown area albeit with a newly remodeled old building as the new home. And it should free up space in the their old location for a hardware store or, more likely, another Mexican restaurant.

  7. rob norman says:

    Is it too early to ask for the expected Menu… ?
    let’s have some not-so-loud music there !

  8. Al Nyman says:

    As somebody who purchased a house with wooden gutters and couldn’t wait to remove them, it rains a lot in this state and they are totally inadequate. You would need an 8” log to make them large enough to handle the water coming off that roof.

  9. Barbara Dugger says:

    I agree with Gordon Shadle. This project, like or unlike the moving of the fabulously beautiful architecually building near the end of Santiam Rd, is very, very inappropriate, needless, waste of much needed tax dollars for more important projects, I could go on an on. I am absolutely certain these sorts of projects would NOT have been proposed OR thought of during the Great Depression/Recessions. I am on the verge of being embarassed and chagrined for the the City of Albany when I read DAILY about the homeless problem here in Albany AND all over the U.S. The list of needs MORE IMPORTANT than this one (and others CARA has been involved in) is gigantic. In addition, peeps having to spend GREAT amounts of $$$ now on the horrendous increase in the cost of living is abhorrent to me.

  10. Bill Kapaun says:

    $200,000 from a state grant and an $800,000 “loan” from CARA. (how often are those actually repaid and not “forgiven?)

    So, $1,000,000 so a business can relocate?

    How many years will it take for the increased property tax to pay off $1,000,000. How much would that $1,000,000 be worth by simply investing it conservatively in that amount of time?

    This is INSANITY!

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