The future of six buildings on the 47-acre “North Campus” of the former Oregon State Hospital on Center Street NE is still unknown.  But action must be taken soon.

The Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) must sell the property since hospital facilities have been consolidated elsewhere and the land is deemed “surplus.”  In order for the acreage to be viable for future use all six buildings, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will require either extensive remodel or demolition – by either the new buyer, (an unknown developer,) or the seller, (the State of Oregon.)

“I’ve had conversations with the neighborhood starting more than a year ago,” says Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, referring to when he first met with the neighborhood association, NESCA, about the principles* it hoped ​development would follow.

“The destruction of this neighborhood as a relatively leafy, quiet, modest livable place,” says neighbor Maren Wryn, “will impact not only home values, but whether many people will be able to stay here.”

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Neighbors like Wryn, Clem says, “wanted to keep open space or a park, have a single developer with a master plan that would be more about live/work spaces, little shops and cafes… than big box retail or strip development.”

​Clem and NESCA worked to successfully get most of the 9 Principles into the RFQ  (Request for Qualifications, a document seeking interested, qualified developers) that DAS then put out.

But last spring DAS said it had not found a qualified response and that it wanted to move to an RFP (Request for Proposals) from potential developers.  This alarmed neighbors.

“The neighborhood was concerned,” Clem says, “that if you just ask for who will take it off the State’s hands and have no strings attached, the buyer wouldn’t follow many of the 9 principles.”  Accordingly, Clem and Sen. Peter Courtney (D-Salem) stopped the RFP process last year.

But the clock is ticking, because it currently costs the state $30 – 40 thousand a month to keep the six buildings standing.

Wryn wishes for a solution like “The Village at Traverse City,” which is the successful reuse of a former mental hospital in Michigan.  Clem also finds the case of Traverse City intriguing, and has been investigating.  He found that the developer received state-financed redevelopment tax incentives, cleanup grants and other publicly- financed enhancements.  Some buildings were torn down.  The public paid for environmental cleanup. The area was zoned so ​occupants pay no state personal or business income taxes or local property taxes until 2017.

Clem isn’t sure how much of this can be done in Oregon, but says, “it’s worth looking into​,​ anyway.”

Some preservationists like Salem’s Hazel Patton empathize with the wish to keep all six buildings, but aren’t sure this is feasible.  “I understand and applaud the goals of the neighbors,” ​says ​Patton, who was ​among a group who worked to put the campus on the National Register in 2008.  “Collectively [the six buildings] tell a story of the progression of treatment of the mentally ill in our State.”

But preservationists, Patton says, must assess which buildings are most important, which most reusable and which have the most integrity and historical value.  “In a perfect world we would save all the buildings.  But it’s not that kind of world, so you have to focus on those buildings that fit that criteria – and on the North Campus they are the Dome building and Yaquina Hall building… these two have been occupied continuously.”

The buildings Patton ​suggests may not fit the criteria for preservation are the four that DAS asked last fall be torn town prior to sale, to make the property more attractive to buyers.  It was Clem’s understanding that NESCA voted in favor of this plan, since it would make the property more likely to be purchased by someone willing ​”​to ensure the kind of result they are looking for, versus just sell it to whomever would take it off our hands.”

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​But some in NESCA hope to keep all the buildings.  ​A recent Salem Community Vision posting expressed dismay that DAS ​might remove demolish all but the Dome building this spring, saying, “Salem Community Vision visualizes adaptive reuse of the buildings into maybe another exciting adaptive reuse project like McMenamins​’​ ​”​Edgefield​”​ in Troutdale​, plus a higher education campus, and some senior housing.​”​

Clem has been pursuing every solution – both ​ones that involve the destruction of some building​s​ and those that allow all six to stand.

He brought in development specialists ​who had no ​personal stake but who had “experience with mixed-use projects in places like the Pearl District.”  He asked if they would be more likely to provide a mixed-used project like NESCA wants if the property were sold as-is, or if the problematic buildings were ​removed first. “They felt the development community would be much more interested in a single developer master-planned creative project,” he says, “If they did not have to work around existing problems.”

More recently, Clem has had some “very well known developers of historical properties” tour the property “to see if there is any opportunity to do more with the existing buildings either the Dome/Yaquina or the whole campus.”  He is meeting again with NESCA this week​ to discuss his findings.​

DAS has, ​​in fact, ​asked the legislature to fund just under $9 million to​ remove all but the Dome building and​ remediate environmental issues to save the Dome.  At the time of this writing, Clem plans to support this request with 2 caveats:  first, that Yaquina Hall should also be included in the buildings to be saved, and, second, that the option stays open that the property be sold as-is – with all six buildings standing – until June 2015​,​ if there is a financially viable project that ​keeps all six while meeting the neighborhood’s principles.

 

Neighborhood values

In December 2013 the North East Salem Community Association (NESCA,) comprised of neighbors around the “North Campus” property, outlined 9 recommendations for the thoughtful development of the site.

NESCA’s Recommendations include:

1)  Provide a 3 to 5 acre park (public or private).

2)  Retain the street trees around the entire North Campus with adequate lawn to ensure their health.

3)  Do not widen D and Park Streets and 23rd north of D, and minimize the impacts of through traffic.

4)  Scale development from less dense one- and two-story buildings along Park and D Streets to taller and higher density development toward Center and 23rdStreets.

5)  Create compatible successful development.

6)  Provide adequate utilities and services to the site and surrounding neighborhood.

7)  encourage green building.

8)  Preserve the historic Dome Building and associated west grounds.

9)  Provide opportunities for neighborhood-based non-profits to locate on the site.