If you care about the livability of Salem, Oregon, check out the latest potential Oh, no! blow to the many Salemians who want to preserve this town's historic heritage while adding some much-needed urban design coolness to what is, at present, a pretty damn boring and non-cutting-edge community.
James is part of a group that submitted a North Campus redevelopment proposal that was rejected by the powers-that-be in state government.
Here's a view of the property in question, a slide from a 2014 City of Salem presentation.
Below you can read James' post. I've mildly edited it for readability and added a few links.
I haven't followed North Campus goings-on in great detail, but am fairly familiar with the key issues. I've got two main concerns with the recently-announced plan to demolish all but one of the historic buildings on the site prior to issuing a new RFP, Request for Proposals, from prospective developers of the property.
First, having Oregon taxpayers foot the bill for demolishing the buildings, removing hazardous materials such as asbestos, and otherwise making the property "shovel ready" for new development doesn't make sense to me.
The cost of all that would have to factored into a higher sales price for the property. And it precludes any possible reuse of the buildings that would be torn down. James believes that some (or maybe all) of those buildings can be saved.
As he says in his post, James' redevelopment proposal backed up that belief with an offer to buy the property. In other words, a private party was willing to buy the property "as is," taking on the responsibility of dealing with the existing buildings.
Apparently DAS (Oregon Department of Administrative Services) now believes that it can both (1) confidently predict that no prospective developer of the property would want to re-use any of the current structures other than the Dome Building, and (2) demolish those buildings at less cost than a private developer could, thereby recouping the cost to state government through a higher North Campus sale price.
These assumptions seem dubious enough to warrant close questioning of this proposal by the public and state legislators -- in part because of my other concern. Namely...
Second, there's good reason to view this demolition plan as having been orchestrated by City of Salem officials. I left this comment on James' post: "This feels like it has the secretive manipulative back room dealmaking hands of Mayor Peterson and City Manager Norris all over it."
Several years ago a newspaper story described the dream of Peterson and Norris to have a $100 million development on the North Campus that could bring in more than $522,000 in property taxes each year.
Download Redeveloping the OSH North Campus could be a $100 million project with key benefits for Salem.
As many as 490 housing units could be built on the site. Apartments, row houses, condominiums, and assisted living homes would be part of the mix on the 47-acre north campus.
My reaction, and that of many people who currently live in the North Campus neighborhood: ugh. Not nearly good enough. Salem already has plenty of ordinary housing options. This is a special property that deserves to be made into something unique, not commonplace.
Someone, I and others strongly suspect, put pressure on DAS to reject the redevelopment proposal that saved existing buildings and left plenty of green space on the property. That someone likely was officials at the City of Salem.
They are notorious at conducting the public's business outside of the public eye, making backroom deals that eventually emerge from the shadows where attempts are made to sell them to a suspicious citizenry. Same thing is happening here.
Read the comments on the Facebook post to see how well the demolition notion is being received. For example: "horrified, sick, defeated feeling, mad, devastated. Did I say mad, HOW ABOUT FURIOUS!! Screw the poor neighborhood. Build ticky-tacky crap housing, import higher crime to Northeast - just what we need!"
Here's Geoffrey James' report on what's going on.
You will not read about this in the newspaper, at least for a while, but DAS (Oregon Department of Administrative Services) announced to the Capitol Planning Commission on Friday, January 9, that the half million sq.ft. of historic buildings at the 37 acre Oregon State Hospital North Campus will be DEMOLISHED, with the exception of the Dome Building, that is presently occupied by the Dept. of Corrections administrative offices.
This proposal will cost many millions, and would need to be approved by the Legislature, so is not yet a done deal. They first would remove any asbestos, then demolish the 5 buildings, then apparently would provide larger utility connections to city sewer and water. The objective is to try and make the property "shovel ready" and more attractive to developers. They also plan to trim the diseased trees.
This proposal is maybe what the City of Salem staff want, i.e. a site for their hoped for $100 million development. However, the real estate market is limited, and the location of this site may only attract apartment blocks. That is NOT what the neighborhood wants or needs. The NESCA Neighborhood has adopted nine goals that encourage adaptive reuse of the existing buildings, and saving the trees and much open space.
A local Salem group did submit a proposal for acquiring the property, reusing the buildings, and implementing ALL nine neighborhood goals. That is not what city staff wants to happen, so the word was put out that the local proposal, from an investment group, was "not qualified". An actual purchase and sale offer was submitted for millions, i.e. more than the appraised value of the property, and DAS staff were impressed, but the City seems to have inflence over what happens.
Salem Community Vision visualizes adaptive reuse of the buildings into maybe another exciting adaptive reuse project like Edgefield (McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale) plus a higher education campus, and some senior housing. The recreation area (park) at the northwest should be retained. The wonderful trees should be preserved. There is room for low rise housing carefully sited in the trees at the north east portion of the site.
One building on Center Street could have small neighborhood shops, restaurants, and small businesses. An incubator for entrepreneurs is needed, and there is room for that. The center could well become a neighborhood center and one of the attractive places to visit in Salem like the Willamette Heritage Center.
So here is the situation: a half million sq.ft. of historic buildings are planned for the wrecking ball. Contact Rep. Brian Clem and Senator Jackie Winters, members of the Capitol Commission, about this. It is unlikely the state (and the taxpayers) would be able to recoup the planned millions that DAS plans to spend to "prepare" this property for future development.