Forest Grove officials scratch heads over non-response

What’s not to love?

That’s what Forest Grove officials hope to find out when they begin approaching developers to learn why none of them responded to a Request for Qualification that was sent out March 13, seeking redevelopment ideas and a “coordinated, cohesive concept plan” for the empty, city-owned Times-Litho building on the northwest corner of Pacific Avenue and Main Street.

Replies were due last Friday, May 2.

Shady Almondova, business development coordinator for DCI Engineers in Portland, was the only development scout to attend an April 2 informational meeting and tour of the building. City officials gave Almondova a glowing picture of the site:

It’s minutes away from a downtown filled with wine shops, art galleries, restaurants, a farmers market, a TriMet bus stop, a community theater, an aquatic center and a liberal-arts university that hosts world-class speakers and performers.

It’s in a city that serves as the gateway to wine country and to the Oregon coast, and is the only city in Oregon with three historic districts. Recreationally, there’s nearby Hagg Lake, golf courses, the Tillamook Forest, Fernhill Wetlands for world-class birding, a new Scenic Bike Trail and the Lincoln Park sports complex, where the track and fields are shared by the university and the community.

The city has some of the lowest water and electricity rates in the Portland area, as well as a newly approved urban renewal district, city officials who are open to negotiation, and a housing boom that helped make it the sixth-fastest growing city in Oregon last year — a growth not just in people but in income too, as new, more expensive homes draw more educated, higher-income residents.

Almondova was impressed. She said Forest Grove felt like a “quaint little town” that reminded her of picturesque spots in Maine.

She thought the Times-Litho location might serve well as a high-priced “boutique hotel” or perhaps “corporate housing,” meaning market-rate, furnished apartments or condominiums for corporate people who fly in to work at Intel on short-term assignments, but “want to be able to get away from the Intel infrastructure.”

After touring the site, Almondova said she’d “like to just flatten the whole thing ... It’s already empty and there’s nothing to salvage, so just take it down.”

Paul Downey, the city’s finance director, told her he’d gotten an estimate of $173,000 for tearing down the 46,000-square-foot printing plant and $200,000 for the total 54,645 square feet, including an office building and a small home.

Almondova wrote up a report, which went out to several developers, including one who specialized in student housing, but they all passed on the opportunity and none explained why.

Jeff King, economic development manager for Forest Grove, said he was a little surprised that no one responded. “What we may end up doing is talking directly to some different developers and see if we can get some interest.”

He said it’s hard to know whether to worry until he gets more feedback.

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