A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

CARA milestone: Money for projects OK’d

Written May 19th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

The former Wells Fargo property downtown may look like this some day.

Albany’s CARA urban renewal program reached a milestone Wednesday when the city agreed to lay out more than $6 million toward the refurbishment and restoration of two historic buildings downtown, the former Wells Fargo Bank and the former St. Francis Hotel.

Acting as the Albany Revitalization Agency, the city council approved a request from Gerding Companies Inc., represented by Tom Gerding, for a $2 million grant and a $900,000 loan toward the Wells Fargo project, which the company expects to cost more than $10 million to complete.

After Wells Fargo closed the branch in 2018, the ARA bought the building and parking lot on First Avenue for $1.5 million in order to see the property redeveloped. The loan is to buy the building but not its parking lot from the city.

The ARA or council on Wednesday also approved developer Marc Manley’s request for a grant of up to $3,769,000 toward the restoration of the St. Francis and Rhodes Block buildings, also on First and across Ferry Street from the Wells Fargo property.

For all the details, you can look at the paperwork filed online with the May 19 agendas of the Central Albany Revitalization Area Advisory Board and the ARA. The CARA board recommended approval of both projects, and the ARA/council did so unanimously.

Gerding plans to expand the ground floor and mezzanine of the old bank, which had six stories when it was built in 1916 as the First National Bank. The upper floors were taken down in the 1970s. The company wants to add three stories with 30 units of residential housing. They are also exploring a “rooftop dining element.”

Gerding said some work could start this fall.

At the St. Francis, the CARA contribution will mostly fund work in Phase 1 of the project, which is to secure the building and keep it from falling further into disrepair. Manley plans to renovate the ground floor for businesses as part of the first phase, then work on repurposing the top floors as 27 market-rate apartments. He, too, mentioned a rooftop café.

Albany once had eight multistory hotels. The St. Francis, built in 1915, is the only one still standing.

Council members were eager to have construction start, but first the city has to conclude development agreements with the builders and developers. Also, there’s the land-use review process yet to go through.

And there might be delays. CARA got letters about these projects from two local advocates of historic preservation, but people listening online to the virtual meeting were kept in the dark about what they said.

In any case, having dinner on top of either of these buildings is probably a few years off, if it ever happens at all. (hh)

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7 responses to “CARA milestone: Money for projects OK’d”

  1. James Engel says:

    Well, it will be in keeping with the redone streets downtown. At least the buildings won’t be vacant. And seeing some of Gerdings completed work around the area they just might do a bang up job.

  2. Johnny J.J. Jack Jacques Hartman says:

    Indeed! The Wells Fargo bank building is of critical importance in the preservation of historically significant architecture. The building’s facade has only been modified a few dozen times since the majestic structure was first erected. And those previous historically-correct revitalization efforts certainly did nothing to weaken the intent of the original builders who were, undoubtedly, profoundly concerned the commercial structure reflect the deeply ingrained aesthetic of the community which it found itself in at the time. The Wells Fargo bank building and its accompanying parking lot are woven deeply into the hearts and minds of the local citizenry. Any attempt to desecrate this sacred land simply for profit should be resisted by all who care and believe that downtown Albany is hallowed ground. The Wells Fargo bank may have only considered profitability, but the historically concerned people of our fair city need be determined. Historical preservation must Trump the prurient excesses of capitalism. Anything less will dilute and destroy the integrity of the community’s inner core…a fate too horrible to consider.

  3. CHEZZ says:

    I’m moving Downtown!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Albany YIMBY says:

    Looks cool, it would only look better without the ridiculously large parking lot. They’re like craters of nothingness in Albany’s downtown.

    If we want to keep some car parking, fine, but let’s build a multi-level garage and use that valuable land scattered around downtown for more projects like this, with commercial and residential together. Some people may even consider not owning a car if there are enough amenities there, I know, what an abomination!!

    And you know what, when people have to walk from where they park to their business destination, they actually shop more than when there is small parking lot every 100 ft for every destination you want to visit. Just saying.

  5. Bob Woods says:

    5 stories might mean that potential rooftop dining area has a view of the river. That would be a nice plus.

    Downtown is sooooo much better than when I started work there around 2000. They have done a great job getting the core back to a nice place to be.

  6. Cheryl P says:

    (shaking head) The city just approved a $9.00 utility tax because of a “short-fall”, yet has $6,000,000 to make things “pretty”.

    • Bob Woods says:

      State law requires that certain funding sources are restricted to particular programs.

      CARA’s job is to revitalize the area within it’s project area. It can’t be used for “anything”, it has to be used only for redevelopment.

      Folks, City government has to operate under a lot of state controlled restrictions. It’s not just money that can be used for “anything”, it’s tied to the source of the money. It’s hard, You really have to spend time learning about the restrictions. The things that Hasso is covering, he almost always points out where the money is coming from and what it is for.

      This is why you elect people to represent you.

      It ain’t easy. It takes time and study. Whether you agree with any given decision is fine, just understand that funding is complicated and that your City Council must operate within the rules for various funding sources, as required by state law.


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