Friday, December 18, 2015

Car Dealership Site for Police Station Chance to Fix Terrible Intersection

Last night the Police Station Council Subcommittee met, and over at SCV and Hinessight they've got some detailed discussion of the current state of the debate. Indeed the overall costs remain high and the refusal to include seismic work on the library seems foolish. But here there's nothing new to say on these.

Instead of considering proposed building size and cost - what to build - which others have done plenty well, let's just consider the leading site candidate - where to build - from the long list of eight, and short list of four finalists.

Of the four finalists, the O'Brien parcel at Commercial and Division Streets scored highest by a significant margin.

O'Brien Parcel Sale Flyer
A project here would be across the street from the proposed new United Gospel Mission development, and right at one of Salem's most dysfunctional intersections.

Remember the crash with all the chickens?

Not a chance for someone in the bike lane
The junction of Front Street, Commercial Street, and Division Street is a mess.

The wide curves here promote speeding, the signal cycles are long and confusing, some bike lanes disappear, people walking have to cross in multiple phases and with out-of-direction travel, and people in cars have to weave to get to the correct turn or through-lane. It's not tidy and it's not comfortable for a lot of the traveling public.

So if the UGM and the Police settle on either side of Commercial Street here, there's a real chance to thoroughly rebuild the charlie foxtrot that is the Commercial-Front-Division intersection.

During the semi-covert phase of this project between 2011-2013, this site was also identified as a candidate.

O'Brien Parcel from June 3rd, 2013
(Worksession presentation, deleted from City site)
So it has been a strong possibility for a while.

Purely from a transportation standpoint, the O'Brien parcel offers the best chance to reconfigure a problematic intersection. None of the other possible sites do.

By itself the prospect of intersection repair shouldn't determine anything, but it could be a tie-breaker kind of factor.

Still, the O'Brien parcel has also seemed like a strong candidate for housing and a mixed-use development, and a Police Station would not contribute as much to downtown renewal. There are real opportunity costs here.

Based on the long list of eight sites, it doesn't seem like there's an ideal one, and compromise will be necessary.

For previous posts on the Civic Center and Police Station debate, see here.


Jim Scheppke said...

The Council Subcommittee should have just picked this site and moved on. As you state, it scored significantly higher in their evaluation than the other three sites. Two of the other sites are severely undersized and would require big parking facilities at $30K per space. The other is north of this one in the area that is developing for mixed use along Broadway. Making that 5 acre site into a big police HQ "campus" would not be compatible with the other new developments on Broadway. The Subcommittee is wasting our tax dollars by now asking DLR Group to do four conceptual designs of the new police facility on all four sites. That doesn't come cheap. It's clear there is only one site that is the winner.

Anonymous said...

Ick! What a terrible use for that property! If done well a mixed use development would contribute so much more to downtown than another despotic government building. Too bad we can't just keep this dreck on the current city hall property and preserve these other properties for higher and better uses.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Yes, but Anonymous, you have to consider cost. As Jim Scheppke pointed out, the other sites closest to City Hall are too small for surface parking. Seems foolish to pay $30,000,000 to park a few cars! Truth is that we could get the cost down even more if the Mayor was not insisting that the building has to be close to downtown. My fear is that fiscal responsibility is being tossed out the window and the voters will not support the bond.

Eugene City Council waste a lot of time and money trying to get voters to approve a $100 million complex downtown for a city hall and police station. After two failed bonds, they finally had to dig into a special fund and buy an old building to remodel. It turned out better than they expected (and cost only $17 million) but if the elected officials had been wiser they might have been successful in passing a more modest bond.

I worry that the Mayor thinks that if the Chamber puts enough money behind a campaign, she can 'sell' the bond to the voters. But polling done by the City itself showed that there was little support for a bond that would have included both the seismic upgrades and the police facility. How do they think that voters would approve a similarly large bond that did not include the seismic work?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Regrettably, I think Jim and Susann are probably right.

The question at the moment isn't "What is the best and highest use of the O'Brien parcel?" A police station clearly is not the right answer to this question.

But the question instead is, "Given that we need a new police station, and given current conditions in Salem, where is the best spot?" And I think there is an emergent consensus now that the O'Brien parcel is the best place.

The idea of building at the civic center - that ship has pretty much sailed and is now off the table. I think the SCV analysis about disruptions to Mirror Pond is totally wrong-headed. But they do have one important point: a new large parking garage is really expensive, and surface parking would be a lot cheaper. (But is the required parking really $30M worth?)

To make the final argument, though, it would be interesting to see the numbers on a hypothetical mixed-use redevelopment at the O'Brien parcel. How big would it have to be to create tax revenues that totally offset the increased cost of structured parking in a parking garage at the Civic Center or a smaller site?

I'd like to see more about the opportunity costs.

(It's possible that like with the Boise project, tax abatements would need to be part of a mixed-use redevelopment at the O'Brien site, and maybe there's no mixed-use development of any realistic size whose tax revenues would offset a larger parking garage at the Civic Center. But it's also possible that in focusing on the cost of a parking structure alone and ignoring the cost of what else might go on the land, we are missing the maximum benefit.)

In the end we might be at that point where continuing to dither and debate for an "optimal" solution actually has more costs than going forward decisively with a "good enough" solution.

The O'Brien site would definitely be better than the Eugene site, as the O'Brien site is in downtown, though on the edges, and connects with meaningful things. It's not nearly as isolated as the Eugene site.

Anonymous said...

My post is really just venting and admitting defeat of the civic center site. I agree that the SCV position was wrong headed. I don't agree with their point about parking. Mainly because their numbers can't be trusted. What was once $10k a space is now $30k a space. Constructing a huge parking garage was never part of the civic center proposal--only adding some capacity to the existing garage. SCV totally misrepresented what was on the table. Much the same way the Chamber misrepresented the payroll tax. Truthiness is not the same as truth.

So if the consensus is that it has to be a cheap low rise building with a huge surface parking lot I think is is better not being downtown. Seems that it would be a better fit on Mission St. or another Salem stroad where that type of development is the norm and give downtown a fighting chance to move forward.

Anonymous said...

This is a different "Anonymous". I would have liked the PDX Road or Mission Street sites to have secured higher ratings. "Public access" - both are on bus lines. "Community visibility": these are well-traveled roads. "Service to the city": patrols are out on the street and available for service anyway. The 2 highest rated sites will displace any potential for interesting urban development - I would MUCH rather see a grocery store on one of these sites! As it is, too much of Salem has to drive -- or risk injury or death by biking/walking -- to get groceries. Not all of us are physically able to bike or walk lengthy distances carrying bags/satchels either.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Don't forget about Grocery Outlet! It's just two blocks from the car dealership. I know Commercial here is a real barrier, but the immediate neighborhood may not be as poorly served as you think. See this post for more on the location of downtown grocery stores. A downtown grocery probably needs to be more central in downtown. Agree with your general point, though, about the availability and proximity of neighborhood grocery stores.)

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Anonymous said, "My post is really just venting and admitting defeat of the civic center site. I agree that the SCV position was wrong headed. I don't agree with their point about parking. Mainly because their numbers can't be trusted. What was once $10k a space is now $30k a space. Constructing a huge parking garage was never part of the civic center proposal--only adding some capacity to the existing garage."

SCV documents about our positions are on our webpage,, I do not think you will find any reference to parking that cost $10k. We always said that on surface parking is $5k and in a parking structure it will be $35l. We were very careful to use the numbers put forward by the City's consultants. This new group is using the figures $4k for surface parking and $30k for a parking structure.

Also, if you go to the City of Salem webpage on the police facility you will see that there was as part of their plan to 'rebuild the parking garage and add more parking spaces' for a total cost of $16 million. That cost got raised by the new consultants, not SCV.

A 75,000 sq ft building that doubles the current space with surface parking can be built for around $30 million. That includes the cost of land and the very high ($5 million consultants/architect fees). SCV uses City generated dollar amounts.

Our position is that the proposed building is too big and some of the sites will require building a parking structure. This is wasteful. If they pick the site south of the Library the plan would include replacing the library parking structure with a new and bigger parking structure, closing off a street like they did before.

Unfortunately all this discussion so far about location has not included a cost analysis, so it is hard to say what the bond might be for each choice.

SCV agrees that building downtown is more expensive than building out somewhere else. Early on we advocated for the Mission Street site, but the mayor would hear none of that. So, we are left with some very expensive choices.

SCV will support any location and bond that is fiscally responsible. We are concerned that when we hear the numbers we are not going to be happy. And the voters are not going to support a bond that is too big. Our worst fear is that the bond will not pass and we will be left without the needed facility and seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library. Other Cities here in Oregon have gone through this same process with too expensive and too restrictive criteria and have been unable to pass their bonds. Eugene did it twice and has yet to pass a bond for City Hall.

Not only is the product of this process dubious, the process is too. Several cities who finally passed bonds did so by having a large public engagement process throughout the planning stage. Salem has continued to meet in small rooms in the bowels of City Hall and not allowed the public to speak. Most people have no clue that we even need a police station, let alone know about size and cost. We imagine that the mayor is thinking that the Chamber will come up with thousands of dollars to 'sell' the voters on a new high priced building downtown. But we are not convinced. SCV thinks that the voters are more fiscally conservative than the mayor estimates.

Jim Scheppke said...

Just for the record, Susann's math on the cost of a parking structure was off. The numbers that were mentioned at last Tuesday's Council Subcommittee meeting by the DLR Group was $30K each for structured parking spaces and 300 spaces needed. You do the math on that and you come up wth $9 million for a parking structure. This would be needed on the two undersized sites close to City Hall.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see how SCV's cynical attacks on the process will contribute to the success of a bond measure. Just taking the information from this thread at face value the difference between 300 spaces in a structure at $30k a space and 300 surface spaces at $5k is about $8.5 million. For voters who are not inclined to support a bond--$8.5 million will not sway them. They will be no more likely to support a $60mil. bond than a $70mil. bond.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Edit: Updated caption to slide from June 3rd, 2013 worksession to reflect new url

Mike said...

My original idea for the parking garage across from Cinnebarre was for the car dealership at the Obrien site to move there. They could have used the first floor for sales and repairs and the upper floors for storage. But since that can't happen anymore, why not use the parking garage for the police headquarters? The first floor could be used for general police duties while the upper floors could be used for everything else. Sure they'd have to do some retrofitting to make it work but then it still leaves the Obrien site for mixed use. Being near the creek it could be a public asset. And the police station could catalyze a fix to the surrounding roads and buildings. Plus we get one less parking garage downtown. Anybody agree with me?