At different times, Woodburn’s downtown Association Building has served various uses, including a meeting place for hops farmers, a grocery store and a health care facility, since it was built in 1891. But city leaders have been trying to find a new user for the city-owned building since an earthquake rendered it uninhabitable two decades ago.

Representatives from the Woodburn City Council and city staff met with the Historic Woodburn Neighborhoods Association last week to gain feedback for a future use that would be used in a consultant’s survey due by September.

“We’ve really made a lot of progress since the earthquake,” Jim Hendryx, economic and development services director for the city. “Obviously we didn’t want this to be a hole in downtown.”

Since seizing the property on a nuisance lien for $1 in the early 1990s, the city has spent about $800,000 stabilizing and retrofitting the building. Another $40,000 to $60,000 will be paid toward Constructive Form Architecture and Design LLC, a Portland-based consultant, which will conduct a feasibility study this summer to determine the best use for the building, according to Hendryx.

Another $1 million to $2 million of the city’s estimated $5 million available for downtown revitalization could be needed to make interior improvements to the building, he said.

Downtown leaders were generally opposed to the city spending more money on the building.

Other projects include spending an estimated $2 million to $3 million on First Street improvements, which would be similar to those made on Front Street more than three years ago, and $250,000 to $500,000 in upgrades to the Woodburn Fire District station.

“I think the city should use the dollars to do an even better job on First Street,” said Bruce Thomas, owner of Yes Graphics Printing Co. downtown. “If we put in new sidewalks and do proper streets and give new businesses the opportunity to succeed, we may be successful. It would be a crime if the city spent more money on this building.”

The conversation grew testy at times with several neighborhood group members and developers questioning the city’s plans for the building.

“You don’t need a consultant,” said Ellen Bandelow, planning commissioner and member of HWNA. “There’s enough talent in this room to figure out what to do with this building.”

The consultant’s report, which will consider community feedback, will create a market analysis that will guide the city’s direction with the building, said Mayor Kathy Figley, also present at the meeting.

“We need realistic numbers or we can’t negotiate with developers in an intelligent way,” she said.

As an alternative to a sale, the city could retain ownership and find a public use, such as relocating its Public Works Department, or it could sell the building or lease it to future office tenants, Figley said.

“At this point, we don’t want to foreclose any option until we think it through,” she said.

Others mentioned the prospect of condemning buildings that have fallen into disrepair, including a building the mayor owns on Grant Street and the Pix Theater, which has been vacant for nearly a decade.

“There are no consequences to anybody downtown,” said Sharon Corning, president of the neighborhoods association. “It’s time to change that.”

Developer Joonees Chay, who submitted an offer in January to buy the Association Building for $200,000 that was rejected by the city, argued that the city needs to make its mind up on what it wants to do.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Chay said. “You can either have a boring public building or do something exciting and put someone in.”

His offer on the Association Building included plans to spend an additional $100,000 to $500,000 on tenant improvements for “qualified retailers” such as International Marketplace, which would include a food court, café, bakery and sports bar, according to a letter of intent released last week by the city.

Chay LLC would be credited with $100,000 toward finishing the interior of the property within 12 months, according to the offer letter.

The city considered the offer, but ultimately wanted to move forward with its feasibility analysis, which started this summer, according to Hendryx.

The city is looking to get the best value and use out of the building, Councilor Frank Lonergan said at the meeting.

“We did not have what the council felt was a valid offer,” Lonergan said. “There were a whole lot of contingencies on it that I didn’t want to see the city involved with.”

Chay, along with his wife Ann Chay, also made an undisclosed offer to buy the city-owned World Berry Center Museum on Front Street, which the council was not interested in selling, according to Hendryx.

In December, the Chays purchased the old Salvador Bakery building next to the Pix Theater on First Street and spent roughly $300,000 in improvements fixing up the building, he said.

Chay, who has developed properties in Beaverton and West Linn, said a qualified developer or group of investors is eventually going to be needed to make the necessary improvements downtown, he said.

“Don’t worry – that developer is going to make it really good,” he said. “There is incredible money-making ability downtown.”

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