Demolition crews this month will level the former Eagles building at the southwest corner of Broadway and Market streets. As the city prepares for the task, neighborhood representatives puzzle over plans they say left them “shocked” and “disappointed.”
Carole Smith heads the Central Area Neighborhood-Downtown Board of Directors.
“The whole CAN-DO board was shocked to hear the Eagles building was scheduled for demolition. That was the first we had heard of this action,” she said. “We are very disappointed the city feels a need to move forward with activities that affect our neighborhood and not communicate with us.”
Smith says there are plenty of viable options for the building. It just might be the perfect spot, she said, for a charter school, community center or headquarters of one or more nonprofit groups.“Why,” Smith asked, “do we have to tear down a historic resource before we have determined whether there is a use for it in our community?”
But John Jansons, project manager for Salem Urban Renewal Agency’s North Downtown area that includes the former Eagles building, said plans for the site’s redevelopment – and the building’s likely demise – are nothing new.
“The plan all along has been to remove the building and the recent opposition that we’ve heard is a bit surprising,” he said. “This is not a new decision to take down the building.”
“This is a project that has been around for several years with guidance and direction from the Downtown Development Advisory Board,” Jansons said, noting decisions were made in public meetings.
“It’s a very transparent process,” he said. “There’s been plenty of opportunity for people to participate and voice their concerns.”
The city bought the property at 1195 Broadway Street NE in 2001. Demolition crews soon removed a house and other smaller structures on the site. The community – including local neighborhood associations – toured the building last year and site clean up began early this year when underground fuel storage tanks and tainted soil was removed.
“There’s still some environmental work to do,” Jansons said.
Last month, Jansons met with neighborhood groups to update them on the project’s progress and to tell them about a public yard sale set for Saturday, Nov. 19. The sale will fulfill the city’s salvage plans for the building and prepare it for demolition a couple of weeks later.
He described the mood at last month’s Grant and Highland neighborhood association meetings as “supportive and receptive.”
Grant Neighborhood Association Co-Chair Sam Skillern says the group and city for years have had “vigorous conversations” about the Broadway Street parcel. He toured the building last year with city officials and representatives of other neighborhood associations.
“Several of us thought the building had a lot of potential in its current state; others were not so impressed,” Skillern said. “I don’t think the neighborhood association is urgent to go back to the save stage.”
However, he noted, the Grant Neighborhood Association is “demanding” salvage and re-use options since the city “insists it needs to tear it down to market the site to developers and get a soil and water monitoring device in place.”
But Rick Brown, who heads the Highland Neighborhood Association, echoed CAN-DO’s concerns about the city’s decision to destroy the building – and its lack of communication about such an important decision.
“Our last neighborhood meeting was the first time we learned, as a group, of the plans to demolish the building,” he said. “The possibility of remodeling the structure wasn’t even entertained.”
If the matter hasn’t raised “significant concern,” Brown said, “that’s most likely attributed to a lack of information.”
Jansons said CAN-DO has been “a little more concerned about the demolition of the building and voiced a little more opposition to the city’s plan”
Jansons has managed the demolition project since summer. He said he didn’t expect opposition so far into the process.
“This was already a done deal,” he said. “Then, I’m there to give an update and they wanted to argue.”
Jansons described CAN-DO as “probably one of the most engaged neighborhood groups. They’re very active and they’re going to have strong opinions on things – either for or against.”
His October visit was part of the city’s efforts to “let the community know that we’re ready to go. … a reminder to them that this project is moving forward and we’re about to move to the next phase.”
While many support that journey, others aren’t ready to proceed.
Valerie Sovern, a CAN-DO director, is among those who want the city to reconsider.
“It’s all about calling a time-out on the demolition of old buildings,” she said. “I want us to go on record and say, ‘Stop!’ The city says it can’t sell the Eagles building the way it is. I say, ‘Try!’”
When the planned grocery store didn’t materialize, Sovern said the city resigned it to wreckage without making any attempt to market it.
“I’d like to see what kind of a response it would get if it put a big ‘For Sale’ sign on the building.”
The corner of Broadway and Market used to be a hub of activity, but since the city purchased the property, the Eagles building has sat empty.
“They hold onto these properties and then make decisions about them when they don’t have any idea and they can’t say for sure whether there is somebody interested in buying them,” Sovern said.
And while the city is prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on tear down and clean up, she’d prefer to contribute to conservation. She said the building would fill up fast if 1,000-square-foot retail spaces were made available.
“Everyone knows the property has issues,” Sovern said. “But there are many practical uses for the building. Why don’t they literally just give it away – or at least sell it. It’s got a whole bunch of potential.”
That potential may be harder for others to see. Salem developer David Glennie, who owns Telos Development Co., which is developing the property across the street from the former Eagles building, says a “significant majority of the public accept that the building has outlived its usefulness, given its structural and cosmetic limitations.”
“Sure, you could design something around it,” he said, “but would this be a prudent use of public funds?”
The city plans to sell the property once it’s cleared.
“It’s my understanding that – after the demolition and once we have a better handle on our environmental clean-up time frame – we will solicit redevelopment interest for the property,” Jansons said.
“Part of our goal to is to remove the building and clean up the site so we’ll have a blank property that we could then offer for redevelopment.”
There were several factors behind the city’s decision to tear it down. If the building remained, the city would have had to install monitor wells required by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality by going through the basement floor. Jansons said that would present logistical problems and be very expensive.
“There’s really no viable reuse for the building,” he said, adding environmental issues such as removing “layers of lead-based paint” and asbestos would make reviving the building “to modern standards and usable space in today’s market” much more expensive than razing it.
Asbestos removal alone would cost twice as much to remove if the building were rebuilt. “The numbers are quite large and quite compelling,” Jansons said.
Glennie agrees the site will be more attractive to investors once the building, which lacks architectural if not historic significance, is gone. The site itself is a good one, but demolition is necessary for the scale of the development recommended.
“I believe that razing the building is the right thing to do if revitalization and economic viability are desired outcomes,” he said.
Mixed-use, mixed-income development that capitalizes on commercial space and offers a strong residential component would best suit the Broadway and Market intersection – and best serve the neighborhood, according to Glennie.
His company nearly four years ago submitted a proposal to redevelop the Eagles site. The city dismissed the plan, which called for mixed-income apartments and a commercial component of over 15,000 square feet, when it decided another developer could help it attract a grocery store.
“Obviously, it never materialized,” Glennie said.
Despite resistance, the project’s schedule is expected to progress as planned.