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A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

On Wells Fargo site, city goes for big potential

Written June 19th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

At the podium, from left: Buzz Wheeler, Matt Bennett, Tom Gerding, and Bill Ryals.

A team that includes the owners of the Sybaris restaurant and the builder of Albany’s police and fire stations will get the chance to make plans for redeveloping the former Wells Fargo property into something they promise will be an impressive addition to downtown.

On Wednesday, the city council acting as the Albany Revitalization Agency voted to grant a six-month purchase option for the former bank property to BGW Partners. The team consists of Buzz Wheeler, owner of the Albany-based Coastal Farm and Ranch Stores; Matt Bennett, the co-owner and chef at Sybaris; Tom Gerding of Gerding Builders, which has constructed many big projects in Albany; and Bill Ryals, the Albany architect who has designed the restoration of several downtown landmarks.

They are paying $25,000 for the option to buy the bank building and parking lot within 180 days for $1.5 million. Between now and then, they will work with the urban renewal agency to come up with a detailed redevelopment project. The only thing firm so far is that Sybaris will move to the ground floor of the remodeled bank.

The former First National Bank building was constructed in 1916 and used to have six stories until they were taken down in the 1970s. Ryals says the massive foundation represents maybe $2 million in value and should be exploited. One of the concepts is to put four floors of apartments on top what remains of the bank.

The screen shows one possible way the property could be developed.

The ARA or council members made their choice after the Central Albany Revitalization Area (CARA) advisory board, including the council and others, voted without audible dissent to recommend going with the BGW offer. The BGW team said they did not anticipate seeking CARA funds for whatever project they come up with.

There were two other proposals. Linn County offered to buy the property in 30 days for $1.5 million, renovate the bank as the county clerk’s office, and have Lepman Properties construct 24 apartments above the bank parking lot. Marc and Annie Manley, owners of the Flinn Block, offered to acquire the property for restaurants and other uses if they got a million-dollar loan to do so from CARA, with an option to buy the parking lot for $600,000.

There was a lot of talk about parking and how the bank lot might be used in different ways, especially in view of the potential redevelopment of the St. Francis Hotel across Ferry Street.

Ryals or Gerding, or maybe both, made the point that there are lots of different ways the parking lot could be developed to retain parking, including spaces for the public, while also serving other purposes. One of their computer slides showed a roof over the parking lot that could be used as a venue for outdoor events.

The bank property, on First between Broadalbin and Ferry, has long been designated on city plans as a key in reviving downtown. That’s why the city, as ARA, bought the site in February for $1.5 million after Wells Fargo closed the branch last year. (hh)


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25 responses to “On Wells Fargo site, city goes for big potential”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Told you so……it was never a question which of the 3 offers would be picked.

    https://hh-today.com/cara-has-pick-of-3-offers-to-buy-ex-bank/

    It is improper for government to manipulate local economies through real estate schemes, especially when the property was never intended for public use.

    In this case, the free market should have determined the best use of this property.

  2. J. Jacobson says:

    The author of this comment claims it is “improper” for government to manipulate local properties” but he never explains why that is. Various levels of government have “manipulated” land deals since time immemorial and yet, the world still stands. The sky has not fallen. In fact, almost nothing of any bad consequence has befallen Albany or it’s citizens before CARA/ARA came into existence and similarly none since ARA/CARA’s creation. The author should comment based on fact, not on the fictional internal conversation he/she might be having with himself/herself.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      You can’t even get the quote right. And you twist the words out of context.

      Why should we attach any credibility to your nonsensical comments and ad hominem attack?

  3. Jim Engel says:

    My question is, as this building sat vacant for some years why did CARA now get involved & why didn’t those developers move on the property before CARA??? As for apartments above is this old structure adequately braced against earthquake damage?

    • For years? The bank vacated the place last summer. As for quakes, those concrete walls used to hold up a 6-story building.

      • Ms J says:

        I seriously doubt the structure, including its robust 103 year-old foundation, was not designed and built for seismic events of any consequence.

        Even though the foundation used to support 6 floors, I wouldn’t expect it to hold up well compared to today’s seismic standards and given the knowledge of what we know now of what a big quake would deliver, especially considering it’s over a hundred years old.

        Technology and standards this out of date don’t compare to current ones and if relied upon, safety is compromised.

        I’d be interested in what a seismic study would reveal, which I’m sure would be required.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          Even if necessary (which I doubt), starting with the bank building as a foundation would be much cheaper than attempting to build apartments over the existing parking lot!

        • Dick Olsen says:

          The bank was originally designed by Charles Burggraf shortly after the San Francisco earthquake. Burggraf also designed Central School and it was found to be designed to be earthquake resistant.
          A consultant hired by the GAPS school district had declared Central to be dangerously unsafe. However, at the urging of the public, a more thorough evaluation by CH2M-Hill showed the structure to be more than adequate. You can see the details on my web page at dickolsenforalbanycitycouncil.com.

      • HowlingCicada says:

        “Used to hold up a 6-story building” but hasn’t faced a significant earthquake — yet (Am I correct?). So, the question about bracing is valid.

      • HowlingCicada says:

        Sorry, I’m confused. I agree there’s no question about the foundation.

        “””One of the concepts is to put four floors of apartments on top what remains of the bank.”””

        So, the question about bracing applies to the existing above-ground structure, apparently.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Jim asks a good question. I believe looking at the timeline is revealing.

      CARA wanted to dictate how the property will be used. That is the nature of government and why CARA bought the property last summer. All they needed was a group of wealthy cronies to step up to the plate and play the game.

      According to their business registration, BGW didn’t come into existence until April 2019. They obviously formed the LLC with the intent to buy the property from CARA. And given the names involved, they clearly have been playing inside baseball with CARA.

      It should surprise no one that BGW got such an open-ended, undefined, fill-in-the-blanks deal. This is called cronyism, pure and simple.

      • Just to keep the timeline straight, ARA bought the property on Feb. 1, 2019, not last summer. ARA, or the council, had authorized (in secret) negotiations for the purchase in October 2018.

      • centrist says:

        WOW, just WOW
        Local private money is taking on a significant project without GSs approval. He concludes there’s home cookin’ involved.
        Would the conclusion be different if out of state money were involved?

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          He has zero skin in the game – he’s just whining and complaining as usual. Nothing new here!

        • Gordon L. Shadle says:

          If this were a transaction between two private entities, I wouldn’t be commenting.

          This is a public-private partnership (a euphemism for rich folk welfare). The public interest demands transparency.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        “This is called cronyism, pure and simple.”

        Only in your mind. Elvis has left the building…

  4. Bryan says:

    Looks/sounds like a great and needed addition to the area if they can get that many apartments in there, that’s a lot more people living, eating, and generally hanging out around downtown, which is the goal. The Sybaris part isn’t real exciting, but whatever.

    • Garret Adams says:

      You must not have eaten at Sybaris before Bryan.

      • Bryan says:

        I have. Its fine. Not excited about a downtown business that is rarely open and one that most people living in a downtown apartment would be able to afford. It cant really be considered much of an anchor if its only open after most of the other downtown businesses are already closed.

  5. Steve Reynolds says:

    Nice job!!! You can see the vision. I wish the group would issue bonds or stock, so local residents had the option of investing in the project.

  6. hj.anony1 says:

    Hey BGW Partners, a bowling alley establishment would be fun downtown. Maybe chew on that idea for a bit!

  7. Bryan says:

    Like most internet forums, a bunch of clueless commenters. You guys really think you know more about the foundation than the people who do this (successfully) for a living? It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.

    • centrist says:

      Well, maybe
      A competent CE will have the same questions. The design dates to a time when th e design was more art than science. The data hadn’t been collected, and the analysis was in the future. Having said that, by current standards, the foundation design is likely sound. Condition eval is prudent.
      IMHO, if “the big one” shakes the mid-Valley, the alluvial plane will turn to pudding

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