A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

OER depot renovation: Plans and money

Written April 12th, 2024 by Hasso Hering

The front of the old Oregon Electric Railway depot at Fifth and Lyon looked like this on April 9, 2024.

Renovating the historic Oregon Electric Railway depot in Albany to house the Sybaris Bistro restaurant involves building a 4,004-square-foot addition, according to a site plan filed with the city.

The renovation also is costing more than expected, and the Sybaris owners have asked the city council for help, unsuccessfully so far.

The city this week posted a public notice of the building changes designed by Corvallis architect Lori Stephens. The Albany Landmarks Commission will hold a public hearing on the request at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 1.

Drawings show the addition would be built on the east side of the former railroad station, where now there is parking.

The building opened in 1912, when the Oregon Electric track from Portland reached Albany. In recent years the building housed a pizza restaurant and video poker arcade.

Monteith Square LLC, a real estate investment firm, bought the property at 133 Fifth Ave. S.E. in May 2022 for $900,000, according to Linn County. The firm is managed by Bruce G. “Buzz” Wheeler, the founder of Coastal Farm. He sold the chain of 20-some stores in December 2021.

The owners of the restaurant business are Matt and Janel Bennett.

On Monday, Matt Bennett appeared before the city council along with Kate Porsche, the former manager of Albany’s downtown urban renewal program, CARA.

They spoke under “business from the public” and asked for the council’s support in view of the restaurant’s and the historic building’s importance to Albany’s economy and history.

In a memo previously submitted, the Bennetts asked for a “forgivable loan” of $545,000 to complete the depot renovation, the costs of which have risen to more than $1 million.

Some of that grant money would come from CARA, according to their proposal, but the urban renewal district has ended its program of providing such aid to private parties.

On Wednesday, City Manager Peter Troedsson and City Attorney Sean Kidd cautioned the council against granting city funds without an established program. Kidd said council members might be held personally liable for repaying any grant that a court later ruled improper.

Troedsson said the council could establish a new grant program, but it would take time. Among other things, procedures for considering requests would have to be set up. The council made no move to go that route.

So what happens next? The only thing reasonably certain is that the Landmarks Commission hearing on plans for the addition comes up on May 1. (hh)



16 responses to “OER depot renovation: Plans and money”

  1. George says:

    They have plenty of money and we should not spend one penny of tax payer money for this.

  2. Bill Kapaun says:

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to give 109 needy people $5k instead?

  3. Hansen, Dennis says:

    It would make more sense to give 109 needy people jobs.

  4. Rena says:

    Where did the funds for the stupid fountain at Waverly lake come from? That was a pointless and underwhelming addition to the town. Preserving a historical landmark should take prescidence. My biggest question is only this…. Where is the parking going to go?

    • Matthew Calhoun says:

      I like the fountain and I’m pretty sure they said it helps keep the algae from taking over like the lake like years past.

  5. William says:

    A “forgiveable loan” ? WTH? The scamming of the taxpayer just never ends!
    Either suck it up and get yourself a bank loan or us taxpayers get a proportional share of the equity…It shouldn’t be complicated and they have no right to lean on us any more than they already have.

  6. Tim Siddiqui says:

    Hasso, please share the foot print architectural drawings of the proposed extension to the east of the building.

  7. CHEZZ says:

    I hope Sybari’s sells the building so that this classic is brought up to speed and loved by a new owner.

    • Jeff B. Senders says:

      Wheeler owns the building. Bennets own the restaurant.

      Note no explanation has been given for the need to expand at great additional cost, and how that pencils out economically.

  8. James Engel says:

    Oooooo, the mention of CARA money really gets the feathers fluffed up and the clucking sound level increases. Why such a big addition so soon? Where will patrons park. The building is a good size as it is. Live with it…!!!

  9. Brad Hulburt says:

    Stop handing out money and bring back Ciddicis downtown.

  10. sue finch says:

    How can it remain an historic landmark if you add a 4,004 sq ft addition? Changes the whole building with a new build. Preserve it as the beautiful building that it is.

  11. Bob says:

    Sound to me like the owners want a 500k handout!
    Bet the money would dissappear into thin air!

  12. K.R. says:

    Restore it but please don’t drastically change or update it. The history is the point!

  13. Sonamata says:

    Remember how we don’t have money to construct a bathroom at the actual rail station?


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