A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

CARA on Wells Fargo project: Keep going

Written February 17th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

The CARA board saw this rendering of how the former Wells Fargo branch might be redeveloped by adding three floors of apartments.

No surprise here: A proposal to redevelop the former Wells Fargo branch downtown will need financial help from CARA, the Albany urban renewal program. And the CARA board appears ready to give it, though no specific dollar amount has yet been asked.

On Wednesday, builder Tom Gerding showed the CARA advisory board some preliminary numbers. He also presented renderings of what the now-vacant building at 300 West First Avenue might look like with three floors of apartments added to the existing ground floor and mezzanine.

The three new floors would total 30 apartments renting for an average of $1,350 a month.

Gerding estimated the development would cost just under $10.7 million. The completed building’s value would be around $7.5 million, for a “variance” of about $3.2 million.

The builder, whose firm constructed, among others, Albany’s new police and main fire stations and the West Albany High School expansion, told the CARA board that for the Wells Fargo project to move forward, he would need assistance from CARA.

There was no vote, but all the CARA board members present (or the ones I could see on the screen showing the virtual meeting online) nodded their heads or otherwise signaled Gerding to keep going on the project and come back with a request for money when he was ready.

It will be several months before that happens because more design work has to be done. In the meantime, CARA is likely to get a request for financial aid for the redevelopment of the former St. Francis Hotel one block to the west.

Development Manager Seth Sherry reminded the board that the urban renewal program has enough spending authority left to enter into partnerships for two major projects and also pay for upgrades along the Willamette Riverfront.

All these moves are taking forever, it seems.

It was two years ago, in February 2019, that the city bought the building Wells Fargo had closed the year before. Then, in June 2019, the CARA board picked a partnership including Gerding as the prospective developer to whom to sell the property if a development agreement can be worked  out. Two of the partners, Sybaris restaurant owner Matt Bennett and Buzz Wheeler of Coastal Farm, have dropped out, and Gerding remains.

Gerding told the board the margin to make this project go was “razor-thin” and he had been ready to walk away. He stayed with it because of its eventual chance of success in concert with other downtown and riverfront improvements.

“I encourage you to keep going,” Councilman Dick Olsen told him. That was the sense of the rest of the CARA board as well. (hh)

Outside the former Wells Fargo bank at First and Broadalbin on Wednesday afternoon.







24 responses to “CARA on Wells Fargo project: Keep going”

  1. Albany YIMBY says:

    I don’t know what’s so valuable of that ugly bank building. Are we going to call every building historic now just because it’s old?

    I like the render but I wonder if it would be cheaper to build it from scratch. Maybe they can design it with a mid-size grocery store below in mind, god knows we live in a food desert in downtown (and no, convenience stores don’t count).

    But overall it’s fine: more neighbors, more business, keeping Central Elementary student body (it’s somewhat dwindling), less car-dependency and a more livable Albany as a result. It is a good investment in my honest opinion.

  2. Cheryl P says:

    $1350 a month for rent?!? We have a housing crisis. We have the highest unemployment in 20 years. And where is the parking for say…60 cars?

    Oh…and the money from the city to help build that…where is that going to come from? Isn’t the city broke?

    • Albany YIMBY says:

      We need to change the mindset that every new construction needs parking. They don’t. Having a car is not a compulsory thing and we shouldn’t charge renters with the price of a service they may not need.

      Although, we need to recognize that it is difficult to live without a car in America, in any case, if people want to buy/rent those apartments, they’ll find a way to park their cars. Albany is due for a downtown garage, and, residents usually use it at evening/night while people doing business downtown use it during the mornings. That way you don’t need a duplicity of parking lots scattered around downtown. It will save space that can be used for something else and would force people to walk and see storefronts instead of just driving from business to business in the same street.

    • Pat Essensa says:

      You are so right. If the people in the other places in town can’t afford rent. How are they going to afford the wells Fargo building. And I think the people that are going to be living there are expected to take the bus.

  3. Susan M. Brubaker says:

    Doesn’t anybody charge a reasonable amount for rent anymore? It would be nice if they would designate the apts. for either seniors or lower income, but at $1350 a month it will have to be a working person, and I don’t know who would really want to live down town.

  4. Anon says:

    This smacks of cronyism, as most things with the word CARA have over the last 20 years. Sad situation.

  5. Bill Higby says:

    How does anyone think that a building that was built in 1914, had any architectural significance removed in a 1974 remodel be modernized, earthquake protected and have an additional 3 stories addeded and still make sense? It would absolutely make sense to tear it down and build a modern buidling from scratch.

  6. thomas earl cordier says:

    Where else has Mr. Gerding applied for funding. CARA is not meant to be the first and only source of money. Since Wheeler and Bennett owner of for profit businesses caved ; so should CARA . PS Dick Olsen nor I will live long enough to see CARA debt paid off.
    Please Mr. New Mayor Alex stop the nonsense

    • Dick Olsen says:

      Those interested in Downtown should remember that CARA does not hand out hard-earned tax dollars to those working on Urban Renewal projects. Instead, CARA borrows money and then re-lends it to those proposing Downtown improvements. The moneys are then paid back from the INCREASED TAXES that result from the various improvements made in the CARA district. The increased revenue generated by this so-called tax increment financing (TIF) has been surprisingly successful in financing much needed improvements in our Downtown.

      Will I live to see all the CARA debts paid back? Probably not. However, I plan to live long enough to see the probable roof-top bar and grill atop the rebuilt Wells-Fargo. Tom, I’ll buy you a beer or two if your still walking around at that point.

      • Albany YIMBY says:

        Thank you Dick for the explanation. I learned how CARA works now.

      • Rich Kellum says:

        This is the great deception, oh gee it’s almost free is completely bogus and you know it Dick, the vast majority of increase in value is due to inflation not CARA activity. the places fixed go up in value due to the activity, but the house down the block increases due to inflation, housing pressure etc.. The taxes the City get from inside the CARA district were frozen at the inception of the URD and ALL the increase is diverted to CARA, but the costs of a firefighter have gone up dramatically, as has the cost of food etc. Hamburger was .98/lb in 1999, what is it now???? gr beef $3.88 ave in the US gr chuck 4.1 lean??? $5.63 So keep on perpetrating your deception Dick

        • Gordon L. Shadle says:

          Great comment. Here is a letter that the DH published some years ago about the deception CARA puts out. I sent the data to Hasso, but he didn’t seem interested.
          At the Town Hall meeting the City proudly proclaimed that the assessed value of the property within the CARA Area has grown by 46% since 2001. On first glance this sounds impressive, but single numbers, with no context, are essentially meaningless. So let’s dig a little deeper.
          Per Measure 50 the assessed value of every property in the city increases each year by 3%. Economic activity doesn’t drive the 3%, so we need to remove the M50 effect from the CARA growth rate. Additionally, county reports show that the CARA Area’s assessed value went up by about $22M in the first year of CARA’s life. Since CARA had virtually zero economic activity its first year, the $22M increase cannot be attributed to CARA “investments”. When we factor out both the M50 effect and the $22M we are left with a more accurate estimate of CARA’s real growth rate: 3%.
          But 3% is still a single, meaningless number. We need to add some context. Over the same time period the assessed value of property in the “rest of Albany” grew by about 28% (M50 effect factored out).
          So far, Albany citizens have sacrificed $11M in property taxes to prettify downtown. Taxpayers are now saddled with $8.8M of CARA debt. And we’ve learned here that “investments” in the CARA Area aren’t driving much growth relative to the unsubsidized “rest of Albany”.
          The next time someone touts the economic benefits of CARA, ask hard questions. The answers may not please you, however.

          • Steven Reynolds says:

            Gordon, that’s the big argument, would the value have gone up the 3% on AV, even without CARA? And the secondary question is how much effect does having a nice downtown help values overall, how much crime was eliminated? Was it just pushed out to other areas of blight? It’s hard to quantify liveability.

            Would the property owners have gone to BOPTA and argued their RMV’s have fallen to the point that the AV was more than the RMV or at least in a compression status triggered by the limits of M5?

            This is really the heart of the whole CARA debate. How much value do you give to the intangibles? Probably depends on how much you use downtown, how involved you are with the community as a whole.

      • Steven Reynolds says:

        “The moneys are then paid back from the INCREASED TAXES that result from the various improvements made in the CARA district.”

        Exactly how do you collect taxes on new sidewalks?

        Isn’t the increase limited to 3% of the assessed value (AV) per year of an actual privately owned property? Not sure how inflation is involved. As I understand, the only increase in taxes that can occur are when improvements are made to a property that trigger a reassessment that can be added to the fixed AV and then taxed at the 1.5% plus levies and bonds, limited to M5 maximum levels. In fact aren’t most of the major CARA improvements to actual historical buildings deferred for a period of time, usually ten years, for historical designation? I still see properties from 10 years ago that are not generating new revenue, they’re still at their pre-AV improvement values.

        I’m not saying CARA isn’t worthy, I’m just saying increases in property tax are not going to cover what’s been spent, on the other hand CARA has been collecting from the other tax districts for the last 20 years, so a lot of what has been spent is already paid for, it’s just other districts did with less for that period, as has been pointed out many times. But like everything else with choices, there’s unintended consequences, like deferred equipment not being purchased by fire or police, CARA improvements went up but so did the line item for deferred equipment expense. Would that have occurred had CARA not siphoned from their district?

        With some of the new CARA proposals coming through, I don’t see how spending an additional $3M dollars above the RMV of a property fits the narrative….

        “The moneys are then paid back from the INCREASED TAXES that result from the various improvements made in the CARA district.”.

        I may be wrong Councilor Olsen, there’s many of us that do spend the time reading the city material, perhaps I’m not interpreting what I’m reading correctly. If you have another take, I would be glad to listen.

  7. Rich Kellum says:

    Money for CARA comes from YOUR taxes, you can see it on your property tax statement, but more than that it is the replacement of funds taken that kills the budget… or lowers services otherwise. Do you think it is just happenstance that a Safety levy was asked for not long after CARA was established?? What they are saying is ‘give me money so that I can make a profit………People being laid off for lack of funds, and staff says that there is money available………………. agggg Sell it to the County, if the County has not already solved their problem of space already. The problem is millionaires asking for free money from a group of people who have no accountability to those whom the money is taken, putting pressure on the folks who have some limited accountability to the people being fleeced..

  8. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Should your property tax dollars be used in this way?

    Did voters have any direct say on what their property taxes should be spent on? Yes, of course they did.

    When voters approved the multiple tax rates they pay for specific things/services they gave every taxing district the power and resources to deliver only those specific things/services.

    Did voter approval of Albany’s property tax rate include letting CARA skim property tax revenues from the other taxing districts so that CARA can pay off its non-voter approved debts? No, it did not.

    CARA is a breach of faith. Thank goodness the Albany City Charter now requires future CARA’s to get voter approval.

    The moral thing for CARA to do now is shut down, bring an improved urban renewal plan before voters, and let the people whose trust should never be violated decide.

  9. hj.anony1 says:

    High time to cut losses!

    Perhaps consider an implosion like 45’s casino in New Jersey. Granted loser45 bailed on it after bankruptcy a decade ago but some buildings take some time to bring down.

    Surely CARA/Gerding could save some $$ and build fresh. Ground up as they say.

  10. Mike quinn says:

    Does anyone realize who tom herding is he has been able to do many city projects and built 80 percent of new schools in Albany. So by my calculations he has made about 18 million dollars in a couple years. Why does he need cara money. He can go into any bank and get loans. Stop giving away our money. And we went through this a couple years ago the senior rental building by Byrant park was 5.2 million supplying 48 units so why is 10 million the figure for the Wells Fargo building. LOTS OF PROFIT

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Insightful comment.

      CARA is supposed to be a “lender of last resort”, at least according to the city attorney and city council.

      Before giving away millions for expensive apartments and a rooftop bar that Dick Olsen can drink at, other councilors and the new Mayor should verify that Gerding has no other financing options and taxpayers must be forced into assuming this risk.

      But then progressives may get a little uppity and say CARA is privatizing the profits and socializing the losses. And a good progressive never wants to be tarred with that.

  11. suebee says:

    Albany is tax rich…the State of Oregon as well… we are rated of the worst states to live for seniors… Google it!

    I love the idea of revitalizing downtown…it’s a beautiful area to enjoy, but CARA has had free rein of projects like this, and then our taxes, and utilities take a hit to provide it! We gotta meet in the middle folks!

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Good luck trying to find the “middle” with a city council that, like most political entities, takes great pleasure in exercising power.

      The power to grant or withhold economic reward is the lifeblood of Albany politics.

      Exercising this power is infinitely more pleasurable than the messiness of eliminating real “blight” or the mundaneness of providing “essential services” like police, fire, and library.

  12. Dave Schnebly says:

    Linn County has offered to purchase the building for what the City of Albany paid for it.
    The County would not need CARA money. If the County needs additional space then this should be a good location with built in vault storage and a structural sound building close to other County offices. Sell it to the County and lets get it occupied.


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