End in sight for apartments under construction since 2008
Anyone who's regularly driven along Southeast Stark Street by 172nd Avenue in the past decade has likely noticed the gradual — extremely gradual, in fact — evolution of the three-story apartment complex set back from the intersection's northwest corner.
While the project started as far back as 2008, all manner of factors has delayed its progress. The past several months, however, have seen the structure transform from a ghostly-looking shell of a building closer to the attractive, residential-commercial structure that developer George Bitrous first envisioned.
While he remains hesitant to pin down a specific finishing date, Bitrous — who has wrestled with city of Gresham building planners and inspectors over the project for years — believes the Rockwood complex is at last nearing the home stretch.
"We're getting close. We're getting there," he said on Wednesday, March 4. "Inside is ready to install sheetrock (walls). Once we get to that stage, things will get rolling pretty fast."
For the exterior, Bitrous and his contracting crew are waiting for architectural drawings to accommodate a roof-venting system — one of many additions or changes he said city officials have required from him throughout the long, drawn out project.
"I know I keep saying (that the project is almost completed), because I want to be optimistic," he added, noting the complex engineering needs and city requirements to match them. "We're building a complicated building. … There are a lot of engineering (-related) things you have to consider when framing it. All the engineering has to meet building and safety codes.
But we've got everything pretty much solved."
When completed, the approximately $1.8 million, 18,000-square-foot building will provide eight three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom residential units on the top two floors. Currently unfinished ground-floor commercial space can be divided into anywhere from one to six units depending on a tenant's needs.
Despite the longtime Clackamas County developer's optimism about the building being completed by this summer, Bitrous hasn't actively solicited residential or commercial tenants.
"You can always get people who want to rent," he said. "For downstairs, I haven't taken any applications yet. Once we get the sheetrock up, we'll know how long we have to finish and can work on leases and rental agreements."
Bitrous also hasn't determined exactly how the units will be priced.
"I've got to check the market. It's changing so fast," he said. "I don't know what the market will bear. It's not an upper-income neighborhood. Supply and demand is what it comes down to."
After long stretches where Bitrous faced setbacks when building plans ran afoul of city codes, he is not currently in violation of any codes or being penalized for delays, noted Gresham spokeswoman Elizabeth Coffey.
"However, if there is not meaningful progress towards benchmarks like the framing inspection, penalties will considered," she added. "The city continues to work with Mr. Bitrous to facilitate completion of this property and is ready to do inspections as needed."
Bitrous began the project in the early 2010s as a partnership with his brother, Osama Betrous, who uses a different spelling for his last name. Construction progressed enough to get the building's mostly wooden framework up. Work ground to a halt in 2009, however, in the wake of the Great Recession and the brothers' ensuing financing problems, including the collapse of Silverton-based Silver Falls Bank, their primary lender.
Once financing was back on track, Bitrous managed to resume construction on the dormant building, which by 2015 included replacing weather- and vandalism-damaged materials.
Since then, Bitrous said he's dealt with a steady, yet not insurmountable, stream of issues ranging from building code-driven design and requirement changes to varied availability of subcontractors and construction workers.
"We've been working every day, except on weekends," he said. "There's just a lot of little details — stuff you don't see being done but has to be done. It's been going almost constantly for the past year or so."
While clearly sheepish, he's hesitant to blame any particular factor or entity for the unusually long and laborious project. Bitrous is confident, however, the city and neighbors will appreciate the ultimate result.
"It's a nice building," he said. "Once it's all landscaped and everything is done with the building, I think it will make the neighborhood a lot better.
"I know it will help the neighborhood out," he added. "And I hope it encourages more development."
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