Here we go again... the City of Salem and the State of Oregon are doing something incredibly stupid. Yeah, I know, this isn't shocking news. Government officials are notorious for making bad decisions.
In Salem, for example, the Mayor and her current City Council majority have laid plans to build an unneeded half billion dollar Third Bridge requiring $1.50 each-way tolls (on the two current bridges also) and want taxpayers to fork out $82 million for a vastly over-priced police facility that costs twice as much per square foot as it should.
Oregon state government operates under the shadow of hundreds of millions of dollars wasted in the Cover Oregon fiasco, and revelations that many millions in alternative energy tax breaks were wrongly handled by bureaucrats.
So one would think that the City and State would do their best to avoid embarrassing screw-ups on the redevelopment of the State Hospital's North Campus. The State of Oregon wants to sell this property, and the City of Salem wants to see it converted into productive property-tax-generating uses.
Thus it is really strange that the State of Oregon's Department of Administrative Services has rejected an offer from 14 Willamette Valley business people that would:
-- Save 400,000 square feet of historic buildings on Oregon State Hospital North Campus
-- Save the State of Oregon $8.3 million from demolition of those buildings
-- Create hundreds of new jobs
-- Put over $150 million of new structures on the property tax rolls, which will benefit all taxing districts in the Salem-Keizer area
-- Be an “incubator,” enabling economic development.
This information comes from an October 7 press release whose contact person is Alex Rhoten of Coldwell Banker Commercial Mountain West Real Estate.
Download North Campus press release
The proposal sure sounds damn appealing. Here's what follows the above "bullet points" in the press release.
The group’s proposal is for 47 acres of the property including buildings known as “The Dome” and “Yaquina Hall.” Analysis indicates that the buildings are structurally sound and are suitable for office/classroom/apartment space. A number of potential tenants have expressed interest in the redesigned space.
The Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) has been considering plans for the property, most regrettably including demolition of the site. The group believes this isn’t necessary and wants to encourage political officials to consider an alternative plan. Their plan would include preservation of historic buildings, while creating new housing, stimulating educational programs and enabling new retail space.
Alex Rhoten, commercial real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Mountain West Real Estate sees the project as an economic development opportunity for Salem and the Valley. “The chance for Salem and the surrounding areas to provide hundreds of new jobs as well as much needed housing is something that can’t be missed. To demolish the current structures for some limited, low income housing doesn’t provide nearly the value and is extraordinarily shortsighted,” said Rhoten.
According to engineers and architects, the site has over 500,000 square feet of structurally sound buildings, of which a significant percentage can be put into productive use in about one year. Additional new buildings totaling over 600,000 square feet will also be built.
Rhoten added that few development opportunities, regardless of the location, would provide Salem with economic development, new jobs, new affordable housing options, recreational areas and desirable retail space as fast as this North Campus project could produce. This will be the largest development project in Salem since the Lancaster Mall was built in 1971.
It seems like a no-brainer for government officials to seriously consider this proposal.
The public also should be asked to weigh in on it, especially considering that the dubiously-wise current plan is for the state Department of Administrative Services to borrow $8.3 million from other parts of its budget to pay for demolishing the North Campus buildings that the Alex Rhoten group wants to save and put to productive uses.
As reported in the Statesman Journal story, "State may go over budget on State Hospital revamp," DAS is just trying to break even with the sale of the property. Meaning, I assume, the State of Oregon would need to find someone willing to pay at least $8.3 million more for the North Campus acreage without 400,000 square feet of demolished buildings.
Yet Rhoten's group is willing to buy the property with those buildings -- which, as the press release says, would save the State of Oregon $8.3 million.
So why is this deal getting so little attention from government officials at the state and local level?
From what I've heard, outgoing Salem Mayor Anna Peterson flat-out rejected it, saying the City of Salem would never approve a plan that creates hundreds of new jobs and puts over $150 million worth of new buildings on the property tax rolls.
Why? I guess you'll have to ask Mayor Peterson.
But since she's out of office in a few months, a better question is, "Why the hell is Peterson seemingly getting veto power over a project that would greatly benefit Salem, especially since she is a very short-term Mayor?"
And here's another great question: Whatever happened to the vaunted Collaboration Capital that Mayor Peterson loves to talk about?
Fourteen Willamette Valley business people submit a proposal to redevelop the North Campus in a way that preserves 400,000 square feet of historic buildings, along with constructing 600,000 square feet of new buildings, and this idea is never even discussed by the City Council or brought forth for public discussion?
If you think it's dumb for government officials to spend more than $8 million demolishing buildings that a group of local business people want to save, then to hope to sell the bare land for twice what it is worth in order to recoup the demolition cost (I've heard that the assessed land value of the North Campus is $8 million), share your thoughts with Salem's Mayor/City Council and Governor Kate Brown: