Monday, December 9, 2013

In the Neighborhood Associations: NEN-SESNA on McGilchrist, Morningside on Police Station

On Tuesday the 10th at 6:30 p.m., the NEN-SESNA neighborhood plan, Looking Forward, will meet in Court Street Christian Church (1699 Court St NE) to discuss the McGilchrist area.
Come learn about the McGilchrist Urban Renewal Area, proposed improvements to McGilchrist Street SE, and the 22nd and Electric Street Overlay.
With new offices like the Social Security and Veterans Administration offices, and restaurants like Santiam Brewing, this is an area in transition, maybe even gentrifying, and the frankly crappy conditions apparently acceptable in an area dominated by old-school industry are no longer ok.

McGilchrist and the SSA Office Fiasco
At last month's SESNA meeting, according to the draft minutes City staff discussed the area:
Two proposed transportation changes within our boundaries. Reclassify 22nd Street as collector, propose to make it connect to Madrona St. This would help reduce use of 25th Street and bring people to the industrial area. There is a desire to realign 22nd Street on either side of McGilchrist, but there is no funding or current plan. McGilchrist needs updates, but these would cost $20M so it’s best to do that at the same time (along with left turn lanes between 22nd and 25th). 25th and Madrona intersection will be fixed to make it safer, improve pedestrian access. The second change is to create an East-West connection between 25th and Airport Rd. A small street is needed to promote redevelopment without adding driveways on Mission. There may be a traffic increase on 25th, or it may help; depends on what goes into the development. Multiple options help disperse traffic.
Planning for some change here is important, especially if the area is a magnet for elderly and disabled people, as well as an incubator for food and beverage.

Kuebler Boulevard - attracting "investment"
In the meantime, we budget over $10 million right now (bits and pieces in the bond, including bond surplus, but not including the interchange with I-5) for "congestion relief" on a four-lane parkway out south, but looking at $20 million for upgrading a close-in arterial on which we now ask the elderly and disabled to travel is prohibitive at the moment.

McGilchrist at the SSA Office:
40mph, no sidewalks - and oh, by the way, watch out for pedestrians!
And that's just the present.  By adding capacity to Kuebler, we create a future maintenance need.  Our current maintenance needs are inadequately funded, so it makes little sense to create this new future need. The Kuebler expansion will not by itself create additional value and revenue to fund the McGilchrist need - you can extend this general analysis to almost any new road or widening - and so current needs, especially those closer to the center of the city, will just continue to get more difficult to fund.

Our approaches to Kuebler and McGilchrist show one way we export value to the edges of the city and drain value from the inner city. It subsidizes outer development at the expense of inner development. This is policy, not accident or magical market forces!


Wednesday the 11th at 6:30 p.m., the Morningside Neighborhood Association will meet at Pringle Creek Community Painters Hall, 3911 Village Center Drive SE.

On the agenda is the proposed Police Station and Civic Center project, and it seems likely one or more of the principal critics of the project will attend. Conversation may be spirited! This might be the best opportunity to hear both sides of the debate.

Vacant big box - former Safeway on Middle Commercial
Estimated to cost $53.5 million
as adaptive reuse for new Police Station
As we noted a couple of weeks ago, using a vacant big box here in Salem was estimated to cost $53.5 million, not the hypothetical $17 million as some critics have argued using an example from out-of-town.

Analysis of Eugene-style Police Station
with an adaptive reuse of vacant Safeway
If critics still believe this "option 3" is overpriced, hopefully they will drill into the City's costing with a more detailed critique.

If you haven't gone to the open houses, this will likely be a very good opportunity to learn more.

Update, December 18th

Some good conversation in the comments!

In a nutshell, here's why the City's proposal remains more persuasive than the "back-of-the-envelope SWAG" issued by Salem Community Vision.

Two proposals, side by side
City alternative using car lot on left
Salem Community Vision SWAG on right
Just fill in the blanks on the City's spreadsheet!  Folks have identified a car lot site at 25th and Mission:
14.54 acres.
72,000 sq.ft. Capitol Chevrolet
24,000 sq.ft. Capitol Toyota
96,000 sq.ft. TOTAL
In the City's proposal for a car lot, they found they weren't able to reuse the building on site, so critics should probably argue for reuse in more detail than just "why can't we reuse an old building."  Maybe our Police have very specific needs that cannot be addressed by an old car lot shell.  That seems like a plausible claim, one that should be disputed directly and not merely dismissed airily by an example from another city.  There are several functions that Salem wants to centralize that Eugene did not centralize.

It seems like it ought not to be that difficult to formulate a strong, credible, and informed alternative to the City's four proposals.  The fact that critics keep avoiding this - crucially avoiding using the best available information - casts significant doubt on their case.  This is just baffling!

Instead, the lynchpin of the argument seems to be that critics already know, "we can't afford $70.5 million."  Instead of asking "what do we need?" and "what's best for Salem?" and then "let's figure out how to accomplish it," they know the conclusion and reason back to "how cheaply can we do this."  That looks like a Walmart, discount, and ultimately cheap approach to emergency services - unworthy of a Capital City.

Right now, dollars seems to be driving the conversation. What if instead values drove the conversation?

The chief critics of the City's plan write today
we would like an honest and open reconsideration of the location of the Public Safety Building (police station) and primarily we would like more citizen participation. Some of our critics think that we are opposed to the bond and are being antagonistic to the City Council and the staff. We don't feel that asking legitimate questions is disloyal to the welfare of the citizens of Salem. We are encouraging better dialog and exploration of options that we honestly think might save taxpayers hard earned dollars and feel we could get a better facility that will last for the next 50 years and allow for changing technologies and civic needs. Having a more open process is not a negative thing. It is being positive that citizens can make a valuable contribution to the decision making process.
So let's have some dialog!
  1. Why is Peace Plaza so great and effective that it shouldn't be altered or even relocated?
  2. How is Mirror Pond so wonderful that it shouldn't be modernized?
  3. Why shouldn't we want to reconfigure the Civic Center in ways to make it more walkable and lively?
  4. What specifically about the four City estimates is not credible?  (Not just the repeated claim, "but Eugene did it cheaper!")
  5. What do we give up in redevelopment and property tax opportunities when we don't use land the City already owns for a new Police Station?  Why is the City's claim about operational inefficiencies from a remote site not credible?
  6. Apart from the question of cost, how exactly does the Eugene model promote neighborhoods and livability?  Apart from cost, what kinds of Salem solutions would best promote neighborhoods and livability?


Brian Hines said...

Your figures on an off-site Police Facility are misleading.

First, we need to keep in mind that from the start, the City of Salem zeroed in on a Police Facility at the Civic Center. The U of O students were told to only consider this. So the City has a vested interest in making the cost of an off-site Police Facility look high.

But let's use the City's own figures, knowing they are dubious.

A slide in the June 2013 work session presentation to the City Council shows that when a proportional allocation of site work and soft costs items are added to the $32.1 estimated cost of a new Civic Center police headquarters, not counting cost escalation the total is $42.5 million.

By comparison, the slide you shared in this post showed that by doing the same proportional allocation, the cost of an off-site Police Facility in a remodeled building is $32.4 million. And that seemingly includes the construction of a two story new building, which Eugene didn't have to do.

So even if the City took this unnecessarily expensive approach (likely it could find a vacant building in Salem that could be remodeled, and not have to build an entirely new building off-site), the cost is $10.1 million less to put a Police Facility away from the Civic Center.

Again, using the City's own figures. You didn't mention that the $53.5 million total on the slide includes City Hall upgrades and building a new City Council chambers.

So those who are saying that tens of millions can be saved by siting a Police Facility away from the Civic Center are correct, even by the City's own cost figures.

Sarah Owens said...

Cost calculations for any off-site facility should also include any additional operations and maintenance costs an off-site facility is expected to generate, and any expected lost property tax revenue costs. The City's report (the one SBOB is using) includes those estimates.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Unfortunately the City's site doesn't have a clear summary section with the latest info and docs and then have a clearly subordinate section with the historical memos and other supporting docs. (They could help themselves a lot with better information design!) So I use one set of numbers, you use another, and that compounds the disagreement. Here's a single sheet with the four alternates and 2017 cost escalators.

Anyway, we agree a repurposed building would be slightly cheaper. Earlier I said $8M, and using slightly different figures you say $10M. Same ballpark, totally within the error bars of an estimate.

But tens of millions? It looks to me like you are omitting the fact that there's a bunch of seismic work that still must be done at City Hall and the Library. (Additionally, a new Council Chambers is budgeted for $1.3M. That's not chump change, but that's only 3% or 4% of the project total.) Only by taking out this work can you make the difference run over $10M - and that's not a fair comparison.

Finally, no one has made a credible argument yet that the City numbers are "dubious." Maybe they are, but no one publicly has shown why they are wrong. Crucially, and see more below on this, other cities are other real estate markets with different costs. An argument about costs that relies on data from another city is not on the surface a credible argument.

Back to your points: "By comparison, the slide you shared in this post showed that by doing the same proportional allocation, the cost of an off-site Police Facility in a remodeled building is $32.4 million. And that seemingly includes the construction of a two story new building, which Eugene didn't have to do.

So even if the City took this unnecessarily expensive approach (likely it could find a vacant building in Salem that could be remodeled, and not have to build an entirely new building off-site), the cost is $10.1 million less to put a Police Facility away from the Civic Center.

The requirement is for a building of 75,000 square feet, plus-or-minus. By talking about a hypothetical in another city, it ignores the actual real estate market in Salem. If critics believe there is an ideal and vacant 75,000 square foot building in Salem, then why don't critics point to it, especially as critics think it is "likely" one is available? It is possible that there is no 75,000 square foot vacant building in Salem. The vacant Safeway, as big as it is, supplies only half of the necessary square footage. Other vacant big boxes on Lancaster are probably similarly sized. Critics of the City's proposal should dig more into commercial real estate listings here in Salem and furnish credible counter-examples of actual buildings for sale or vacant buildings rather than continue to talk hypotheticals. (And, as Sarah points out, should include in that a serious analysis of the increased operational costs from a remote site.)

Another aspect of real estate markets - they are local markets, with highly variable costs! To use a totally exaggerated example, if a developer in Manhattan pointed to a building under construction in Salem and said, "hey we can build this for a lot cheaper," everybody in Manhattan would laugh. Similarly, real estate values in some other city are not very useful for talking about costs in Salem. This is another reason it is important to talk more about concrete details in Salem and not about hypotheticals in other cities. (1/2)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Second - and clearly many disagree - it seems like a new Council Chambers could improve citizen participation in City government and Council meetings, so for that reason I see a new Chambers as a good thing rather than a boondoggle. At the very least it's not self-evident that the current Council Chambers are wonderful, and it would be nice to see an actual argument for why we should not consider an upgrade to Chambers. It's possible, too, that a new Chambers would be less expensive than a seismic retrofit of Chambers (not all of city hall, just Chambers), as it is on stilts, really. This point can be extended to the Civic Center generally: It is not a well-functioning ensemble, and it is so very curious that critics of the City proposal seem to want to keep it as-is.

Third, if for no other reason than the staggering amount of property in Salem that is public and off the tax rolls, it seems like a totally reasonable starting assumption that a Civic Center expansion would be preferable to taking more property off the tax rolls; equally it seemed at the time like a totally reasonable constraint for the SCI project to use this starting assumption. The student involvement is a red herring, and serious criticism of the City's proposal should give up on that particular detail. It's an emotional argument about the supposed inexperience of youth and heavy-handed city conspiracies rather than a substantive one about the merits of site selection and budgeting. (2/2)

Sarah Owens said...

Brian Hines today offers this example of "lower cost alternatives": "the empty car dealerships on Mission Street near I-5."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks! Using my thumb for comparison on google aerials, those auto dealership buildings don't look like they meet the requirement of 75,000 square foot of building. It would be interesting to know how big they actually are and what is the listing price or FMV. That's the data that would make for a credible alternative to the City's proposal.

Curt said...

The buildings on the mission street property have over 100,000 square feet. It doesn't appear to be available anymore:

Market value is almost $8mil. and generates over $143,000 in tax revenue per year or $4.2 mil + over 30 years.

I did another property search and there was only one hit with over 70,000 square feet. I didn't join the site to see the listing. Safe to say those building are very rare in Salem.

I'm not sure facts like these make a difference to SCV or not.

Sarah Owens said...

I put it to Brian Hines, effectively SCV's spokesperson, at his blog as to whether facts such as the ones you point up make a difference to SCV.

Speaking of what's important to SCV, I'm wondering how important community is to it/them.

According to SCV's "About" section on its FB page, "Salem Community Vision is the people of Salem Oregon working collaboratively to help plan our city improvements in local government, facilities, neighborhoods, livability, prosperity, and citizen involvement."

However, with the exception of one meeting in October (10/18/13), SCV's meetings have not been made public, which is to say the time, place and date of the meetings have not been posted on the FB page. (We know there have been meetings, because Brian Hines has referred to his attending them in his blog.)

There's a post on the FB page that reads:

"GET ON THE NOTIFICATION LIST ... to receive updates of meetings and to get on the email notification list ... just email us at", but I have tried this, and found that getting on this list does not get you "updates of meetings" or notifications as to what SCV is doing or planning, much less what it's envisioning for the "Salem Community."

My request to be on the list wasn't even acknowledged until I wrote and asked about it. Then all I was given was assurance that I would receive notice of the "public" meetings, and the "opportunity" to sign SCV's petition (drafted in secret) and "Like" their FB page. I've asked SCV to confirm that being on the yahoo list does not not get you "updates of meetings", but have received no response (which I take as confirmation). Interestingly, the SCV FB page has had no posts since November 29th.

A long way of saying I'm also not sure the Salem community makes a difference to SCV or not.

Michael Livingston said...

Perhaps there's another existing building in Eugene that Salem could purchase.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Re: the Mission Street sites: We should remember that the City's "option 1: Urban redevelopment site" is a car lot. For whatever reason, the City did not find those buildings reusable. It seems possible - maybe even likely - that the buildings on Mission street would similarly not be reusable. The City should probably address publicly in much greater detail why these shells won't work. Also, an element of fantasy in the "citizens alternative" of $37.5M, is that there is zero budget for site work. And it seems like a strong probability that many of these sites will have environmental mitigation/abatement stuff necessary.

As for the property taxes, in addition to projecting out the taxes over 30 years (or 50 or whatever) at the current use, the opportunity cost should include the prospect of the site being redeveloped: Presumably the City would like to redevelop those sites with denser, higher-value uses, and so the "lost" property taxes would be greater than the $4.2M Curt mentions. (Thanks for that research!)

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion of some of the very same issues for Beaverton -

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the Beaverton link!

Last week the City received apps for three demolition permits for buildings that are part of the cluster of car dealerships at 25th and Mission. So it looks like something's heating up there - and it's not a new police station.

(Can't link to the permits, unfortunately. But there may be more to say later.)

Sarah Owens said...

In response to my questions,

1) Do facts like the ones SBOB and Curt posted make a difference to SCV? and,

2) Whether you/SCV have any other examples of "lower cost alternatives" in mind for the City/citizens to consider?

Brian Hines responded:


As I said before, Salem Community Vision is looking for alternatives, plural, not a single alternative. So what happens with the Mission Street property is largely immaterial to the goal of SCV. I tried to explain that in a previous comment.

Regarding the Mission Street property, I got this from a SCV member today:

Attached is today's listing of the
Capitol Chevrolet / Toyota buildings
14.54 acres.
72,000 sq.ft. Capitol Chevrolet
24,000 sq.ft. Capitol Toyota
96,000 sq.ft. TOTAL

Isn't the City needing 74,000 sq.ft. for a police station ?
With plenty of parking spaces.

So at present the building are still for sale. As you're probably aware, real estate transactions can involve a lot of bargaining, misdirection, and strategizing.

Until those two ex-car dealerships are gone, they're still standing. Simple truth.

Curt said...

Once again Brian Hines shows how difficult it is for him to open his mouth without contradicting himself.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with reply in the main body of the post