City of Woodburn seeks partner or buyer in its effort to reinvent the historic and iconic Front Street property

by: INDEPENDENT FILE PHOTO - The Association Building sits on Front Street and is still vacant. But the city hopes to find a potential buyer or partner through a request for proposal process.Vacant for more than 20 years, and once in imminent danger of condemnation and demolition, the city-owned Front Street property commonly called the Association Building figures highly in what Woodburn officials hope will be a continued and enthusiastic rejuvenation of the downtown core.

The city’s Urban Renewal Agency (which is comprised of the Woodburn City Council) is preparing to issue a request for proposal, or RFP, to potential parties interested in acquiring and redeveloping the building. Simultaneously, the URA has decided to list the property with commercial real estate vendors for the first time.

Both moves are part of what officials are characterizing as an unprecedented effort to find a use, or user, for the historic site.

“The city has made efforts in the past to contact different companies. We’ve put it on the market before,” council President Pete McCallum acknowledged. “But this is our biggest push in the last five years.”

Originally built in 1891 by Woodburn founder Jesse Settlemier, the two-story, 10,000 square-foot brick structure was seriously damaged by a 5.7-magnitude quake in 1993. The building had been occupied by the Salud Medical Clinic at the time.

The city acquired the property for $1 on a nuisance lien in 2000 and completed an $850,000 project five years later that included seismic retrofits, fire and life-safety upgrades and a complete exterior makeover. However, the project did not address the building’s interior, which currently lacks finished walls, floors, stairs, elevator, plumbing, electrical wiring and other infrastructure required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and occupancy codes.

A feasibility study conducted by Portland-based Constructive Form Architecture and Design LLC, which the URA accepted in January, estimated it would cost a minimum of $600,000 to bring the building up to a baseline, market-ready level.

Jim Hendryx, Woodburn’s economic and development services director, likes to describe the structure’s interior condition in “good news, bad news” terms.

“It’s a shell,” he said. “And the good thing about that is that you can do whatever you want with it. It can be custom built for the end user. You don’t have to tear out anything.”

Officials hope this broad potential, coupled with the property’s valuable location and high visibility within the community, will attract numerous respondents through the RFP, which could be issued as soon as 30 days from now, pending final revisions and review.

Constructive Form’s feasibility study, which cost the city about $50,000, used site evaluations, market research and copious public input to identify three concepts the firm believed represented “the highest and best uses for the Association Building”: a neighborhood activity center, business incubator with a studio arts focus or a micro-brewpub/beverage distillery.

McCallum said he and his co-councilors were somewhat “underwhelmed” by the three propositions.

“We were looking for more options of what it could be,” he said.

Hence, the RFP, which will share findings from the feasibility study, including the three concepts, but is also deliberately open-ended.

The URA “wanted to make sure people know this is a broad RFP,” Hendryx said.

An alternative to the RFP is that the city could sell the building without an identified use. Though the property’s real market value, currently $535,000, would not fully recoup the city’s prior investments, this option would still be less expensive than any of the three concept models highlighted by the study.

At any rate, officials are optimistic heading into this process, citing renewed interest by potential developers in Woodburn downtown properties in general, and strong indicators of a slowly but steadily recovering economy.

“We just want it to be a positive building for Woodburn that will attract people downtown,” McCallum said. “That’s what we’re really after, so we’re keeping an open mind.”

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