Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Howard Hall's Impending Doom Prompts Meetings

Howard Hall might soon be demolished,

Howard Hall at the Blind School
facing the same fate as the medical clinic designed by Pietro Belluschi on Center Street.

Last Year's Demolition of Clinic designed by Pietro Belluschi
On Thursday the 15th, the Historic Landmarks Commission will assess the Hospital's request to demolish Howard Hall. There's a truckload of documents here. (This is formally "a Major historic discretionary review of a proposal to demolish Howard Hall"; there would be a separate and distinct process for the demolition permit itself, but if the historic review approves the demolition, the permit itself would be a formality.)
The garden and playground doesn't have to be on the corner!
See all that surface parking lot???
The Hospital is trying to sweeten the deal with a playground and garden - but it looks like a bit of an unseemly quid pro quo: Let us demolish Howard Hall, and we'll reward you with a splendid garden and playground...


In anticipation of the hearing Thursday, the neighborhood association SCAN will hold a discussion on Wednesday.  On the agenda:
Consideration of a Resolution Regarding Demolition of Howard Hall, Curt Fisher, SCAN Land Use Committee
Also on the agenda is news about the Lord & Schryver "home garden":
Nomination of Gaiety Hollow to the National Register of Historic Places, Jon Christenson, SCAN Parks and Gardens Committee;
The South Central Association of Neighbors meets Wednesday, May 14th at 6:30 p.m. in the South Salem High School Library at 1910 Church Street SE.

At the HLC

As for the Historic Landmarks Commission, meeting on Thursday the 15th, the staff report and recommendation is dispiriting:
The proposed Garden...satisfies the criterion that the proposed use outweighs the value of retaining Howard Hall on the present site. Howard Hall stands as a memorial to the blind community...[and] The Commemorative Garden will honor the Oregon School for the Blind's history and provide a publically-accessible, adaptive playground for children of all abilities....

The applicant has estimated that the cost of improvements necessary to make the building usuable would range from $2,319,514 to $3,146,279. Additionally, the applicant has submitted a market analysis compiled by Sperry Van Ness....the average Salem medical office rent is $1.75 to $2.00 per square food. The monthly rent needed to obtain a reasonable income on Howard Hall to justify improvemetns would be $3.84 to $5.76. As noted by the applicant, an RFP was solicited in 2013, and no proposals were recieved. Therefore, a reasonable economic return cannot be generated from the adaptive reuse of Howard Hall.

...it was determined that Howard Hall cannot reasonably be moved...[and] no prudent and feasible alternative exists to rehabilitate and reuse Howard Hall....

Based on the information presented in the application, plans submitted for review, and findings as presented in this staff report, staff recommends that the Historic Landmarks Commission...approve the application [which will set the stage for a demolition permit]. [italics added to highlight demolition criteria]
The Hospital didn't try very hard to find an alternative use, and especially since the Hospital is a charitable non-profit, it doesn't seem like an undue hardship to ask them to bank the building for a few years while a greater effort can be made. Concluding that the garden and playground - which can be located elsewhere on the lot - "outweighs" the value of an old building seems far from certain.  And once you expand "value" to include things like the energy used to build the building, the "embodied energy," the conclusion is probably false.

In at least one way, though, the staff report echoes concerns that the Hospital could be engaged even in a bait-and-switch, promising the garden and playground and then not delivering.  The staff report recommends as a condition of approving the request for demolition:
the applicant shall demonstrate to HLC staff that funding has been secured for construction of the Garden prior to the applicant applying for a demolition permit.
Presumably if funding is secured, the plans will be firm and not make-believe.

It will be interesting to see what others have to say.

(For history and all notes on the Blind School redevelopment, see here.)


1)  Whoops! Forgot meeting information:  The Commission meets Thursday the 15th at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, Salem Civic Center (City Hall), 555 Liberty St. SE.

2) a Statesman piece today:

Still missing the fact that it's a huge parking lot!
Update 2

Just got word that Restore Oregon (formerly Historic Preservation League of Oregon) is floating a proposal for a land swap:
Pringle Park—away from busy Mission Street and near two tranquil bodies of water—is currently underutilized. It would be a much more appropriate location for the commemorative garden and the patients who would visit it than the site of Howard Hall.

A land swap would allow Salem Hospital to demonstrate their commitment to the community by building and maintaining the garden and playground on an existing open space. Putting Howard Hall into the hands of the City would allow time to plan and fundraise for the reuse of the building as a community asset.
That's an interesting idea, and maybe even restoration for the Church Street Bridge could be folded into a package!

The full discussion and proposal is worth reading.

In a story likely going to print tomorrow, the paper also reports that parties were interested in using the building, but that the expressions of interest came after the RFP closed. [May 16th - the piece did not go to print, actually, I think]

Hospital spokesperson Cindy Wagner indicated they weren't going to do more than the minimum:
Wagner says that decision was made because the proposal came in too late — months after the request for proposals expired. In addition, even if the hospital was approached earlier, there's no way of knowing if it would have met all of the hospital's criteria....

"People might think we should look at anything and everything if it's an opportunity to save the building," Wagner said. "We said, yes, we will do that but within this process and within these limits."
Update 3, May 16th

online as posted after the meeting, and reposted on the 16th
in print the next day
Who knows the internal process for headlines, but the difference is interesting. The print version, of course, is more neutral, but the online version heads towards what looks like an important truth: The Hospital (not the building itself) is using a divide-and-conquer strategy, trying to pit parents against preservationists.

But several others have pointed out, there's plenty of room on the property for a garden and playground without having to put it in the footprint of a demolished Howard Hall. So the choice is a false one and creates two opposing parties who might otherwise be working together.

Still missing is the fact the nearly the whole of the proposed development is a surface parking lot.

Update 4, May 20

The piece in today's paper is like a restatement section in a symphony!  It picks up old themes, develops them a little bit, but is mostly a recapitulation of old material. I was hoping for reporting that would follow-up on some of the new materials and claims at the hearing.
To accept the Hospital's claims uncritically doesn't seem very helpful:
...the hospital tells me the community can't have both the building and the therapy garden.

A lot of input and thought have gone into the therapy garden and playground plans. There will be written and braille signs explaining plants. Visitors would be able to learn about the history of Oregon School for the Blind via audio and visual resources. They plan to use materials from Howard Hall to build the therapy loop and entrance arch.

"It just goes back to the criteria it has to be something special to be in place of Howard Hall," Wagner said. "This will make it really special and add to the therapy [program]. If Howard Hall stays, we will not be building it."
From here, this looks like the Hospital digging in on the false choice and the divide-and-conquer strategy. The last bit is a little bit of - if you don't agree, we'll take our toys and go home! Why, exactly why, can't "the community have both the building at the therapy garden"?

Further, as we've noted, the Landmarks Commission can tell you what kind of windows to put in, and so how is that power inconsistent with this:
Does the Historic Landmarks Commission have the authority to tell Salem Hospital to put the therapy garden elsewhere? The short answer is no.

Assistant city attorney Maja Haium explained that would be like telling a private homeowner he or she should build a house in a particular style.
It seems to me that the HLC can dictate significant matters of style to a homeowner in an historic district!

Hopefully there will be more in-depth reporting on the matter because there are genuine community values in play here.


Jeff Schumacher said...

Having lived in the SCAN neighborhood for ten years, it is interesting to see how much people value Howard Hall. For me, I've always seen the building but I hardly consider it part of the community. Yes, it is in the neighborhood but it has never been accessible to the public (at least to my knowledge) and with the hospital owning it, its prospects for public accessibility seem unlikely.

I would much rather see conditional approval of its demolition in exchange for two improved bike/pedestrian crossings - one at Mission & Winter, and another at Mission & Church.

It is certainly possible that given a few years, someone could demonstrate a viable alternative for preserving Howard Hall. But the bigger issue is whether the hospital has met its burden. I suspect it has met its burden, and I would advocate leveraging SCAN's support in exchange for better pedestrian transitions across Mission.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

One of the tests here is: What is most likely in a quarter century?

"Boy, I'm sure glad we knocked down all the Blind School Buildings. Isn't this playground great?"

- or -

"Dang, it's a terrible shame we knocked down all the Blind School Buildings. There's nothing left. The playground's a bit ragged around the edges, and the Hospital has seemed disinclined to invest in its maintenance."

I suspect you are right about "the burden." As written, our historic preservation codes don't seem very powerful: They focus on the little detail, but sometimes lose the big picture; the Commission can tell you what kind of windows to put in, but it can't preserve a building for the community present and future. It is probable that the Hospital will have met the criteria for demolition as Salemites have at the moment constituted them - notwithstanding our status as a "heritage all-star city."

(Of course this points to the perennial tension in our political and civic life of individual vs. community, and property's fit into that. If there was an obvious solution, we would have found that by now!)

In any case, it may be that the best outcome is to leverage approval for support of more things like better crossings on Mission, as you say. Maybe the carriage way in Bush Park, too?

Hopefully there will be more discussion of Howard Hall and next steps!

(also updated with meeting info and clip from paper)

Jeff Schumacher said...

I agree with your comment. I would even assume that the playground will be long gone in 25 years - most likely to make way for more hospital facilities. But unless preserving Howard Hall means the hospital's plan to add a rehab center and huge surface parking lots gets put on hold, it is hard for me to see the benefit of preserving that building.

It really would be nice to see Howard Hall turned into office space, a cafe, or something that complemented Bush Park. It would be even better to see the green space around the Hall preserved (and made accessible to the public). But unless preventing the demolition of the Hall also prevents developing the balance of the property, I would rather push for concessions that could significantly improve pedestrian travel in that area.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I rather doubt that the playground will be used much by the handicapped. What Salem really needs to do is to add features to every neighborhood park so that all of them had a feature that could be used by such children near their homes. At Royal Oaks Park for example we added a special swing to a new swing set that can be used by the handicap. We also added a scoop shovel toy that is accessible to someone in a wheel chair. This Salem Hospital proposal is a bribe and not a very good one. We need to save Howard Hall as a museum and community usable space that supports local activities at Bush Park and the local neighborhood.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

posted a second update with Restore Oregon proposal and brief clip from tomorrow's article posted online this afternoon

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

posted third update. Parent testimony at the HLC hearing underscores Susann's point: That there's a system problem with adequately accessible facilities at Salem parks.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over at Bradd Swank's City Council campaign page, Swank published his own lawyerly demolition on the proposed building demolition, and it's worth a look. Since the City has published mp3 recordings of the letters only, and not the text, here's a substantial extract (two commments, this is 1/2):

"I oppose Salem Hospital 's application to demolish Howard Hall because the application does not appear meet the criteria set out for destruction of an historic resource under city ordinance...

CRITERIA (2)(A), The value to the community of the proposed use of the property outweighs the value of retaining the designated historic resource on the present site....

[the case for demolition avoids] addressing value to the neighborhood in which the Howard Hall is located and to the entire community of Salem as an historic resource.... Well maintained historic resources attract people to neighborhoods and cities, adding to the value of adjacent property. Parking lots, the use to which MOST of the property appears dedicated under the Hospital's proposal, do not contribute as much. Nor does the value of the play ground under the application, which may be only speculative because no permanent funding has been provided. Also, such playgrounds may well be temporary ...

CRITERA (2)(B), The designated historic resource is not capable of generating a reasonable economic return and the demolition is economically necessary.

The application shows that Howard Hall is not currently costing the hospital any money . . .only that it is not generating money and could cost money to fix up. These do not equate to making the demolition "economically necessary". There are many commercial properties in Salem that are being held vacant and in poor repair for future economic advantage. . . where demolition is not "economically necessary". Nor does the application, or the staff report state an "economic" reason why imminent destruction provides any economic advantage...
[moreover, the playground won't generate economic advantage, either]"

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Swank comment continued, 2/2)

"CRITERIA (2)(C), The owner has made a good faith effort to sell or relocate the designated resource.

The application of the hospital fails, on its face, to establish "good faith" of an effort to sell the historic resource. The staff report has insufficient analysis of the "good faith" of the "request for proposal" (RFP) circumstances offered by the application.

As shown in TAB 11 of the application, the RFP of the hospital for alternative development of Howard Hall was released for only a few weeks time, during the middle of the usual building season when it is hard for builders to speculate on when they might be available, and at a time (summer of 2013) when obtaining credit for building both home projects and major renovations was notoriously hard to get. Also, it was at a time when builders were waiting for an improvement in the economy before committing to projects that didn't have secure financing in advance. All of these factors were obvious to people engaged in the building industry . . .and would have been to the hospital.

The short time frame and restrictions in the RFP, including the fact that the hospital appeared unwilling to subdivide and sell, would all appear to mitigate against a conclusion that the Hospital was engaged in a "good faith" effort to sell as opposed to an attempt to just speak at the criteria.

The SRC criteria appears to require more than a passing effort to comprise "good faith".

CRITERIA (2)(D), No prudent and feasible alternative exists to rehabilitate and reuse the designated resource in its present location.

The application demonstrates that the Hospital has not explored alternatives to allow the rehabilitation and reuse of the designated resource at its current location. The only alternatives the Hospital appears to have explored are as a medical office or a child care center and a very limited RFP. There is no discussion of considering subdividing the property and offering it for sale to another for separate development. These would appear to be feasible alternatives that have not been explored. The criteria requires that "NO" prudent and feasible alternative exists. The fact that two specific alternatives do not exist does not exclude all alternatives.

CONCLUSION. Failure to meet any one of the required criteria should be a sufficient basis to deny the application for the demolition of Howard Hall. However, the weakness of hospital efforts in each of the required criteria should provide a basis for the Historic Landmarks Commission to deny the application. Denial of the application will allow continued exploration of the potential for the Howard Hall property.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with clip from today's paper