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HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Offers for ex-bank to be aired in public

Written May 2nd, 2019 by Hasso Hering

The former Wells Fargo branch downtown. The photo was taken April 18.

What happens with the former Wells Fargo branch in downtown Albany  — government offices, public parking, or private property used for commerce  — is so far undecided. But city officials now say the competing proposals or “offers to buy” should and will be discussed in public.

That’s in contrast to what happened before. On April 17, two groups of potential buyers presented their price offers and their visions for the property in an executive meeting, closed to the public, of the advisory board of the Central Albany Revitalization Area.

Since then, a third offer was made publicly. The Linn County Commissioners this week offered to buy the place for $1.5 million, the price the Albany Revitalization Agency had paid. (The ARA consists of the city council and is the governing board of CARA. By law it’s a separate agency of the city government even though it’s the same people.)

The county wants to house the county clerk’s office in the building. County Clerk Steve Druckenmiller does not want citizens coming in for election matters to be subjected to metal detectors. Moving his department out of the courthouse would allow the county to install security screens long requested by court employees who “at times do not feel safe in their workplace,” in the words of Roger Nyquist, the county board’s chair.

“The clerk is adamant that the public who access the voting process should not have to go through a screening process, and we respect that position,” Nyquist told me in an email.

The county’s offer is the third on the table, as far as I know. Seth Sherry, the economic development manager in charge of ARA and CARA staff work, would not be pinned down on that point. “I am not going to comment specifically on how many offers we have at this point, but there are several,” he said.

Sherry also reminded me that ARA does not have to take the offer with the highest price. Other criteria to consider include how well an offer to purchase and use the property furthers the goals of urban renewal, which include reducing blight and encouraging private investment to increase the tax base.

What happens next? The CARA advisory board on May 15 will talk about a timeline and other aspects of selling the property. And on June 19 ARA, the city council, is expected to decide on the sale. Some contractual issues may be discussed in closed session, Sherry said. (It’s not clear to me why that’s necessary since both any eventual contract and development agreement for the property will be public.)

“I fully expect, however,” Sherry told me, “that offers to buy will be discussed in an open forum moving forward.”

Mayor Sharon Konopa agrees that offers should be disclosed and discussed in public. “In my opinion,” she said, “an RFP should not be reviewed in executive session.” She meant offers, or the proposals themselves and not the requests for proposals or RFPs, but the thought is there. (hh)


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22 responses to “Offers for ex-bank to be aired in public”

  1. Richard Smith says:

    How about a “national chain type” restaurant? Albany sorely needs one, and it would definitely bring people to downtown. While waiting for tables, customers could browse nearby shops. It would most definitely give a boost to that area, and would create a reason to go downtown…right now, there just isn’t much to draw people in!

    • Rufus Seapour says:

      There are plenty of national chains by the Mall. They do wonderful there. Let them stay there. Downtown is primarily owned by businesspeople in the local community.

      I think that an applebees and Red Robin are enough “national chains”. Let’s keep as much money in the community as we can.

    • Rolland says:

      Why? There are some good options operating downtown now.

  2. DSimpson says:

    This question would probably be answered if I sifted back through the previous posts on the subject, but if this property is such a hot commodity (attracting interest from both private and government groups) why did CARA step in and purchase it so quickly? Were they worried that it would immediately descend into blight? Or, did they want ultimate say on who/what would occupy the space? If the latter is true, how is that part of their charter?

    • The 2011 refinement of the downtown plan identified the address as a key property in redeveloping downtown. So for ARA/CARA it was a matter of securing the property so the agency could determine what is done with it.

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        In other words, in spite of evidence that a private market exists for this building, what we have here is “crony capitalism,” where city government will make a decision that benefits a small group of rich and powerful people.

        This transaction isn’t about best use as determined by a private buyer and private seller. This transaction is about city government in cahoots with cronies to achieve a social engineering objective.

        Thankfully, after watching CARA abuse its decision making power for years, Albany citizens decided every future urban renewal district must receive voter approval. Sadly, the initiative didn’t change CARA’s reckless ways.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          “This transaction is about city government in cahoots with cronies to achieve a social engineering objective.”

          Right… And it has been happening since 2001 with multiple changes of players involved. You really are a hoot sometimes…

          • J. Jacobson says:

            This well-established cabal of cronyism does not depend on continuity of persons. Rather, it is akin to several of the so-called socially conscious groups like the Moose, or the Eagles, or others of similar ilk. Their philosophy is passed down from generation to generation, one member at a time, regardless of bloodline. It’s all about the cronyism and the insider appeal. Don’t be fooled by specious references.

  3. Ken Walter says:

    Will all these parking spots really solve anything? Forget about parking and make a small community where it’s about locals. A trendy spot to live where you don’t need a car and everybody knows everybody. Trying to bring back the glory days of downtown businesses hasn’t worked for decades. Turn the Wells building into a bodega and turn the hotel into condos. If you build it, they will come.

    • Albany YIMBY says:

      Exactly,

      The only based-on-evidence way to revitalize downtowns is to make people to live there. Dwellers are the ones that create business activity. Facilitating parking for what, if there is nothing to see and do?

      This is another missed chance to start building 2-3 floors apartment buildings with businesses below. With only 2000 people living downtown (in about 50 buildings) we’d have the best downtown in the Mid-Valley and an incredible farmers’ market.

      Our city doesn’t seem brave enough to start thinking forward away from parking lots and keeping people from living where it is desirable. I would be 100% into living in 1st or 2nd if I could and I have a nice house already.

  4. Ray Kopczynski says:

    J.Jacobson:
    “This well-established cabal of cronyism does not depend on continuity of persons…
    [The] philosophy is passed down from generation to generation, one member at a time, regardless of bloodline. It’s all about the cronyism and the insider appeal.”

    Your call, but I choose to not be that overtly paranoid…

    • J. Jacobson says:

      It’s not paranoia if it’s true.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        Just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not out there… The inordinate fears that have been becoming much more prevalent the last few years is simply something I don’t abide…

  5. Jennifer Stuart says:

    I would love to see grocery store (but not a supermarket) with plenty of fresh produce, etc, in the downtown, so that residents in and near the downtown area could walk to a grocery store.

    • Albany YIMBY says:

      Couldn’t agree more, Downtown is a food desert if you don’t have/ can’t drive a car.

      A convenience store is not a viable solution for buying food, a small supermarket, even if it’s a bit more expensive would bring more options.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      Until/if/when a grocer deems it viable to do so, the Farmers’ Market downtown on Saturday’s will amply suffice for “produce.”

      • Albany YIMBY says:

        The Farmers’ Market is not enough to buy the normal groceries a family need in a week (milk, cereals, laundry detergent, etc), nor it offers affordable prices for middle-low class residents. Not everyone in downtown is wealthy.

        It is also limited to Saturday mornings, so you can’t do walking daily shoppings.
        I understand that private investors wouldn’t want to invest in a Downtown where barely anyone lives. That’s why we should encourage to remove parking minimum requirements, allow for mid-rise apartment buildings and make a thriving community that would attract business activity.

        https://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/app/legacy/documents/rebuilding-downtown.pdf

  6. J. Jacobson says:

    Downtown is replete with restaurants, some good, most merely OK.
    What downtown could use is something to bring a little levity into the staid, sleepy burg. A combination Honky-Tonk/Cannabis Salon with live music, outdoor and/or rooftop venues included…perhaps utilizing the much desired large parking space. Vitality brings profitability and downtown, thus far largely quiet as a graveyard, could easily be transformed with a little outside-the-box thinking.

  7. Ken Walter says:

    No downtown plan should even be considered without consideration of the Hotel. Changing the hotel into living places would create value for all downtown. The three houses on Calapooia are peanuts to a dilapidated hotel. Wells and what becomes of it seems to be an opportunity to change the vision of downtown.

  8. BillH says:

    That building is seriously out of date, elevator, HVAC, electrical, lighting, all need to be replaced. The basic building is 100+ years old, any major remodeling is going to require lots of code updates including earthquake. $1.5 Million on top of the purchase price might not be enough to renovate it.

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