Back in January 2003 I wrote my first blog post about Sustainable Fairview, 275 acres in Salem, Oregon that previously was the site of the Fairview Training Center -- a facility for people with developmental disabilities.
In that post I included a document that summarized the vision for Sustainable Fairview. Here's an excerpt:
Download Fairview summary
For almost 100 years Fairview functioned as a self-sustaining community, as the State of Oregon's primary facility for developmentally disabled children. It provided housing and services and produced its own food and energy. Including the careful restoration of historic buildings and the integration of appropriately scaled, sited, and designed new buildings within the village center, Fairview is being created as an imaginative community embracing new urbanism, smart growth and green building systems.
With more than 700,000 square feet of buildings to rehabilitate, or thoughtfully deconstruct, enough land for 2,000 residential units, and an extensive network of linked parks, open space and protected natural resources, Fairview will be an ideal place to live, work and play.
There will be wonderful places to visit - places that are active and places that allow for passive enjoyment and reflection. Homes will be within walking distance of the Village Center with small shops and services to provide a hub of activity. Civic opportunities will engage the community socially and culturally with schools, libraries and parks. Recreation will be a part of every life. Public spaces and gathering places will always be near by. Generations will share all these places.
This vision appealed to me then. It appeals to me now. But for quite a while it's been obvious that the master plan has been so diluted, not much of the original vision remains.
Yesterday the always-interesting Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog (which really has nothing to do with breakfast, and often not even with bikes) put up a post about plans for the City of Salem to buy 29 acres of the Fairview property for a park, which includes preserving historic Le Breton Hall.
OK, a park sounds great. Preserving Le Breton Hall sounds great.
But I remember the three-plus years (2003-2006) when my wife and I owned shares in Sustainable Fairview Associates, LLC. We went to many meetings where the master plan for the 275 acres was being discussed. There was an overall integrated vision for the property, the goal being to create a world-class sustainable development that would draw people from far and wide.
In April 2006 I wrote "We check out of Sustainable Fairview." (Both literally and figuratively.)
Since, I've followed goings-on at the property pretty much as an outside observer -- though my wife and I do have a deposit on two lots at Fairview Addition, as described in "Fairview Addition is Salem's best 'New Urbanism' development."
Sustainable Fairview was my first, and probably last, dive into the complex world of large-scale property development. It isn't for the faint of heart, that much I know for sure.
I don't know if there are any grand conclusions for Salem to be drawn from the history of Sustainable Fairview. The property does bear some resemblance to the North Campus of the State Hospital, which, like Fairview, is state-owned land slated for renovation/reuse into a private development.
My main feeling is that it would have been much better if Sustainable Fairview had been able to find a deep-pocketed developer who could have taken on the job of building out the entire 275 acres in accord with the original master plan, or something akin to it.
I wrote about this back in 2004 in "275 urban ac.; 700,000 sq. ft.; get. vu.; Salem; $13 mil/offer"
Let’s just say that there still are plenty of opportunities for a well-heeled developer, investor, philanthropist, environmentalist, or plain person to get involved with an exceedingly rare opportunity: 275 acres within Salem’s urban growth boundary that contain 700,000 square feet of existing buildings and some of the best Cascades/Valley views imaginable. Plans are afoot to sell several parcels, yet most of the property is still available for purchase from SFA.
...What Sustainable Fairview lacks, most of all, is someone with Guts and Vision and Money who wants to do something that has never been done on such a scale before. Cautious small thinking has been stifling this project, along with a lack of $$$. So, come on, all you multi-millionaires out there who are looking to support a legacy that will live on after you’re gone, and who want to put their money to use in a fashion that promises both a high return on investment and a high return for the planet.
Well, my blog ad didn't lure any buyers.
So bit by bit, the 275 acre Fairview property has been balkanized. Pringle Creek Community bought part. Simpson Hills, LLC bought part. Olsen Design & Development bought part. Now the City of Salem likely will buy a part. And Sustainable Fairview Associates still owns a part.
Thus one sustainable vision has turned into five visions of... this and that. Pringle Creek Community has upheld the original vision, so far as I know. The other buyers, not so much (and in the case of Simpson Hills, that might be an overstatement).
As the saying goes, it is what it is.
In 2004, back when my wife and I were members of Sustainable Fairview Associates, I wrote "Seriously seeking special setting."
I'll share it below in its entirety because I still feel that it gets at one of the most frustrating things about living in Salem: too often, people are overly cautious and uncreative, failing to dream big and follow through on that unique vision.
Before I leave my Sustainable Fairview subject for a while (see posting below), I want to share some P.S.’s. Yesterday I heard from a fellow SFA investor who sympathized with my frustrations, but said that he still hoped to live at Fairview one day and form a community with like-minded people. Well, that’s great. I hope that his dream comes true.
However, special settings that attract special people require a special mindset for their creation. The soul of Walt Disney still is felt in Disneyland. The soul of John Bogle still is felt in Vanguard. The soul of Conrad Hilton still is felt in Hilton hotels. By contrast, conventional people create conventional settings that attract other conventional people. When I say “conventional” I don’t mean untalented or unsuccessful. I mean something that is hard to put into words, but is apparent to anyone who visits a special place.
In downtown Salem, less than a block separates a Starbucks from the Coffee House café. The former is conventional; the latter is special. I don’t go to Starbucks unless I’m dying for a latte and there are no other options. I love to go to the Coffee House café and sit for an hour talking with friends, enjoying the unconventional atmosphere.
Sustainable Fairview Associates had an opportunity to create a world-class sustainable community here in Salem that would have been a truly special place. It would have drawn people from all over the country, and even the world, who wanted to live and work at Fairview. Some places people seek out. Other places—Aspen, Sedona, Carmel, Ashland—draw people like a magnet. And they are interesting people, unconventional people, special people. Whenever we go to visit friends in Ashland I realize that there are more artistic and creative souls in this southern Oregon home of the Shakespeare festival than there are in Salem, which has five times more people.
So, some sort of sustainable community probably will evolve at Fairview. But likely it will be a local or regional draw for potential residents and businesses, as evidenced by the early concern of SFA to have a marketing study conducted that analyzed the demand for housing in the Salem area. This was so short-sighted and uncreative, I couldn’t believe it. To start off by limiting your vision to a local market is like Walt Disney beginning by thinking, “What kind of an amusement park will attract people from Los Angeles?”
Thinking big, thinking “outside the box,” thinking creatively—the lack of such thinking is what frustrates Laurel and me as investors in Sustainable Fairview Associates. If we had wanted to invest in something conventional we would have left our money in index mutual funds. Instead, we were seriously seeking to help create a special setting that both we and the world could enjoy. Maybe it still will come to be. I doubt it, unless some special people with a special vision take over the management of SFA, and create a development that matches their sensibilities.