It's been a long road for the circa-1914 freight depot to become First City Central, involving the efforts of every city commission for decades.
Who's excited for a cafe and shopping at Oregon City's Amtrak passenger rail station?
Blane Meier says that his First City Central Marketplace & Bistro will open Jan. 2, pending final regulatory approvals from the Clackamas County Health Department, along with Oregon City's planning and building departments. The business at 1757 Washington St. will have eight to 10 employees, depending on its success, Meier said.
"This is going to be a really special place for rail passengers, cycling enthusiasts, heritage tourists and our local community," Meier said. "This will be a place for the community to connect."
Live music is set to be a big part of First City Central, with all of the connections its owner has in the local music scene. Meier, who plays guitar and sings popular songs from the 1940s through the '80s, will fill in when others are unavailable. The venue is approved for outdoor seating that will open when the weather improves.
Melissa Downs, the bistro manager, was a former manager at Bugatti's Restaurant in Oregon City and is looking forward to the creativity offered by working at First City Central.
"I love designing menus and creating recipes in response to the needs of the community," she said.
What makes it a "marketplace" in addition to a bistro?
"I'll be asking the Friends of the Oregon City Library to install a book nook for browsing in the bistro and for purchase to benefit the local public library," Meier said. "Local artists will be represented here through the Three Rivers Artists Guild. I'll also be providing some shelves for locally made decor and handicrafts, especially if it's bike or train-themed."
With reclaimed wood shelving throughout the bistro, and a repurposed early-20th-century scale for weighing freight now being used to hold creamers and sugar, Meier relates to a "steampunk" design aesthetic, although he didn't consciously seek out the aesthetic. Steampunk is a fashion and art movement that relies heavily on repurposing early-20th-century mechanical contraptions, including bicycles and trains.
Meier's son-in-law, Portland artist Scott Erickson, designed the logo for First City Central. It appears to be a train's locomotive seen coming head on, complete with a cowcatcher next to the tracks, but the locomotive's chimney is a steaming coffee cup and a bicycle wheel is where the locomotive's head lamp would be.
It's been a long road for the circa-1914 freight depot to become First City Central, involving the efforts of every city commission for decades. Oregon City might not have had passenger rail service had former Mayor John Williams not lobbied Amtrak in 2000. In 2010, former Mayor Dan Fowler was instrumental in preventing the freight depot from being demolished, when former Mayor Alice Norris' administration authorized its move to the current location and its conversion to use as a passenger station.
In January 2013, during former Mayor Doug Neeley's tenure, First City Central received its first 9-0 vote of confidence from Oregon City Urban Renewal Commission. As endless details were ironed out over the past four years, Meier heard plenty of skepticism about the ability of First City Central to make a profit at the location. Urban Renewal Commission members eventually concluded that Meier had a good business plan; officials figure the building remodel could be used by another tenant if First City Central doesn't work out.
"People who have opened restaurants have told me that I'm taking a huge risk by opening a restaurant in an area that's not densely populated," Meier said.
However, Meier is confident that many people will go out of their way to visit First City Central, given the excitement he's heard. He said that the rail station will serve as the clubhouse for the Oregon City Trails Alliance, and as a meeting site for the Oregon City Business Alliance and the Oregon City Lions Club.
Meier had planned to open First City Central five months ago, but he's still confident in his business plan turning a profit on a $10,000 deficit he wasn't expecting. This $2,000 a month for the past five months includes insurance, $500 rent, garbage service and equipment leasing. According to a lease agreement with the city, First City Central has gradually increasing rent; it will begin paying $1,000 in rent in February, and $1,500 in rent in August.
Meier also is the owner of First City Cycles on Main Street, which will have an annex for basic repairs and bike accessories at the train station. He noted there has been an unfortunate rumor going around that the bike shop has gone out of business.
"This may have been started by my mentioning to a few folks that, if I wasn't able to secure a new five-year lease, as well as a debt-consolidation loan, the bike shop might have to move its entire operation to the train station. But, thankfully, the store did successfully negotiate a five-year lease and a consolidation loan. Bottom line: After being in business four years, the bike shop has finally turned profitable and now, with the restructuring of its debt, the bike shop is poised to achieve even greater success in 2017 and beyond. Our revenues have been really hurt by the 'going out of business' rumor, so readers should know First City Cycles is here to stay in Oregon City."
As a successful investment adviser, Meier said he didn't need to open either the bike shop or the bistro.
"I haven't taken a dime from the bike shop in four years, because it's been a labor of love," Meier said.
Call 503-421-4506 or visit FirstCityCentral on Facebook for more information.
Corrections noted: Since this article was published, First City Central has updated its phone number on Facebook. This version of the article also clarifies that the $2,000 monthly expenses were not entirely rent to the city.