The recent decision by REI to locate a new store at Keizer Station meant a loss for downtown Salem.

REI, which sells outdoor gear and apparel, is the nations largest consumer cooperative.  It announced on October 9 that it would open a new location in 2014, in a Keizer Station building formerly occupied by Circuit City.  It plans to hire 50 employees.

Jason Tokarski, VP of Mountain West Investment in Salem, had worked for more than a year to encourage the retailer to settle on part of the old Boise Cascade property in downtown Salem.  In an ongoing effort the “turn over every stone possible” to find productive use for the site, Tokarski and his team presented REI with a site plan and presentation in 2011.  The group followed up with REI brokers a number of times after that.

Tokarski says, “We knew that for this particular property, we needed an anchor to draw customers for other businesses that might locate there.  Something like a movie theater or a grocery store,” or a unique retailer like REI.

The Boise site, located at the southern boarder of downtown, with Commercial and Front to its east and the Willamette River to the west, is prestigious and attractive at first glance, but in Tokarski’s words, it is “extraordinarily challenging for development, in terms of the constraints of the property.”

These difficulties include the north-south bisection of the BNSF railroad tracks, as well as the crossing, east to west, of Pringle Creek.   One of the four sections of the piece is located on a flood plain, and all present access and parking challenges.  Access may be permanently limited to only two points, and these are only for vehicles driving southbound.

Also, despite the potential and promise of the property, it has insufficient space for a Big Box store, Tokarski says, which is why Mountain West has explored a variety of options, including a fitness club or hotel, in addition to the REI proposal.

REI has 13,300 active members in the Salem area, according to REI Senior Public Affairs Associate Bethany Hawley.  The company’s real estate decisions are based on a variety of factors, “including REI membership, location amenities, visibility, co-tenants and access to recreational areas.”  Hawley says REI selected Keizer Station for its “proximity and accessibility to I-5,” adding “the existing space also met our format for new stores, including store size and parking.”

As for the Boise Cascade site, Mountain West has “concluded that we have to be our own draw,” says Brian Moore, Director of Real Estate Development for Mountain West.  Moore says the firm advocates “doing things that meaningfully achieve positive things for our community.”  To this end, Mountain West is considering apartments, envisioning they will “create the density” that will make the land attractive to more users and promote economic growth in the downtown area.

Because the location is “tremendous, at the edge of downtown, near the river and with lots of drive-by on Commercial,” Tokarski is confident that a positive outcome is only a matter of time.

“We still own this property,” he says, “and we’re going to continue to find ways to make sure it has a positive cultural and economic impact on Salem and downtown.”

Salem Weekly contacted Ward 1 City Councilor Chuck Bennett for the City’s perspective on this matter, but received no reply.