Friday, October 20, 2017

City Council, October 23rd - Downtown UGM Block

Part of the UGM lot, Center and Commercial
Council meets on Monday, and I was going to lead with the Strategic Plan. But a more interesting development is the City has negotiated an option to buy the Union Gospel Mission and Saffron Supply buildings downtown.

You might recall some preliminary talk a while back about downtown "opportunity sites." This is one of them. A year ago (at Council, and in more detail at DAB) the City made no moves, and the UGM site was identified as a "medium-term" prospect. The calendar seems to have moved up. At the same time, there are still many moving parts:
Due to concerns regarding timing of the property transfer, the sellers’ concerns regarding flexibility, interest from third parties, and the due diligence involved, staff and the sellers’ broker determined an option agreement was the most prudent means to place the property under contract.
So this is a little bit exciting and still quite a bit uncertain.

UGM property in dashed yellow; Saffron property in red
The property is nearly a whole block.

There would be some old buildings we would probably have to say good-bye to. Underneath Saffron is an old building, if I recall, and the art store on the corner is old, its bones dating back to 1888.

The upper two floors of the State Insurance Building
were amputated, but you can still
recognize some of the first floor window surrounds
in Runaway Arts and Crafts on Commercial and Chemeketa!
(WHC 2014.064.0060 and see more here)
The stores have been heavily modified, and there is very little original left. Preservationists say, "there is no building integrity." These lots are excluded from the downtown historic district, therefore. They are almost certainly buildings we should not mourn if they are demolished or heavily modified in a new redevelopment.

So this will be interesting to follow as the UGM relocates (and presumably Saffron Supply as well - which will be a loss as a downtown, old-school hardware store has great usefulness). Previous notes here and here on the relocation project.

Adoption of the Strategic Plan is also on the agenda.

To see it now in its totality is a little underwhelming. It is blandly and generally agreeable, and it doesn't seem like it has sufficient power to discriminate between competing values.

A one-page summary
Who doesn't want a "proactive and forward-thinking" city? Is anyone going to argue against a "fair, equitable, and safe" city?

If this big process has value, the big goals should limn a clear area of difference. It should be easy to discern areas in which the City's policy is changing, was wrong, resulted in failure or unwanted outcomes. The Plan should answer the question: What is different now? A good strategic plan would make clear at least some of the renunciations and emphases in the vision. It seems like you ought to be able to read the values in the plan, formulate their opposite or attach a different valence, and be able to say that we made an actual choice to be this and not that.

Maybe you will have a very different reading of it all, but at this point, the process seems more shapeless than it should be. It seems like you ought to be able to read the provisional goals and come away with a strong sense of ambition and purpose. But all in all the recommendations seem pretty generic and anodyne, driven more for broad popularity than for real discernment.

I don't think it is going to help the City make the hard choices between competing values and competing valuable goods.

The Staff Report identifies some near-term projects and priorities that Council generated:
the top strategies through this exercise were: (1) partner to establish a sobering and recovery center; (2) explore the possibility of bringing high speed internet to Salem; (3) explore alternatives building codes for adaptive re-use of older buildings; and (4) develop a robust City asset management program.
These seem awfully small. (See all previous notes on the Strategic Planning process here.)

Other Matters


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here are more questions about the UGM option that have come to mind.
You might think of other questions...

- If there are already third parties interested in the land, why is the City swooping in? Probably it's to bundle the parcels into nearly a complete block for a larger redevelopment. But is this the best? Strong Towns might say smaller, incremental redevelopment would be better.

- Downtown is still slow for new construction (distinct from renovation projects). 245 Court Street is the only new thing going at the moment, isn't it? The half-block on the south side of Chemeketa Street between Liberty and High (Old City Hall + Belluschi Bank) is stalled, the southeast corner of State and Commercial is stalled, the Marion Car Park site has been silent for a while, so what makes the City think this nearly full block site is ready to be activated?

- What about Alternative 2A on the SRC? If you are conspiracy-minded, City ownership of the block could impact the extent to which widening the Center Street Bridge is or is not feasible.

- Could they be planning to use this as staging for the Center Street Bridge seismic project? A little like the way the City purchased and then used the Park Parcel from Boise for the Minto Bridge staging and construction.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In the late adds to Council agenda, Rotary has submitted a letter of support from The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde for the amphitheater design in general and specifically notes they are actively being consulted and participating in the design process. That's reassuring.