The outlook for the redevelopment of the city-owned former Wells Fargo branch downtown looks uncertain now, but the city council has given the would-be developer three more months to see if the project is financially feasible.
Last July, in return for $25,000 in nonrefundable earnest money, the Albany Revitalization Agency gave BWG Partners a six-month option to buy the property for $1.5 million if a development agreement can be worked out.
On Wednesday one of the partners, Tom Gerding of Gerding Builders, appeared before the council, sitting as the ARA, to request the three-month extension. It now appears that other two partners, Matt Bennett of Sybaris and Buzz Wheeler of Coastal Farm and Ranch, are out of the venture and Gerding is trying to determine if the project should be pursued.
The partners had spent about $40,000 in design fees in addition to the earnest money, Gerding said, and it was a “challenge to make the project pencil.” He needs “additional time to see how we can make this work financially.”
One thing that seems sure is that if the project goes forward, it will need financial help from CARA, the downtown urban renewal program. Seth Sherry, who manages the program, told the council he would come up with the specifics of an aid package by next month or the month after that. Councilman Dick Olsen said he was very much in favor of CARA giving the project financial support.
Initially, the Sybaris restaurant was going to move to the ground floor of the remodeled building, and two or three floors of apartments would be added on top. But the restaurant idea proved unworkable because of the improvements that would be necessary. And Gerding said the cost of construction now is at a high-water mark and rents that could be charged had not kept up.
Last summer the council picked the BWG partnership over two other offers to buy the bank building. One was from Linn County, which wanted to move the clerk’s office there. The other was from Flinn Block owner Marc Manley, who now is working with the city on plans to redevelop the St. Francis Hotel building one block to the west. (hh)