Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Developments Downtown

"Just a reality of the environment...downtown"
At last night's meeting of the Urban Renewal agency, CB2 Architects presented their design plans for a cool new "mixed use" development on the corners of Front and Court Street that will use urban renewal funds and bring 40 units of 1 and 2 bedroom rental housing to downtown.  (CANDO officially endorsed this project at its last meeting.)  The response was nothing short of enthusiastic, except the Mayor had a concern:

I notice that a landscaped plaza is planned for the open area between the two structures and will provide both private and public open space?  Well, being one of the Chairs of the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative and dealing with so many of the issues of the homeless in downtown, and the many vagrancy problems that we are facing, I'm concerned about any amount of public space...I'm sure you don't want to build it like a fortress with gates and walls, but as a downtown resident, there are moments when I feel like I would like to live behind gates and walls.  It's just a reality of the environment that we have downtown.  
Hasn't thought about controlling homeless

It seems the Mayor "just wanted to be certain that we weren't imposing upon you a responsibility to provide public space in order to receive grant funds."  In response CB2 said, "We have not put any thought into how we are going to control the homeless people." 

Readers may recall that a couple of folks this past summer set up camp for a few days under the High Street bridge near the Mayor's condo, (bottom) which generated a social media controversy and seemed to upset the Mayor, who expressed her concern that more wasn't being done to put an end to people using Salem's public spaces to sleep and whatnot.

910 Front Street NE
Further north on Front Street is an empty cold-storage warehouse (or something along those lines) that some folks are thinking might be repurposed as a resource center with showers, laundry facilities, meal service and some form of shelter or housing (or something along those lines) for adults experiencing homelessness.  Don't get excited, they're only in the contemplation stage.

For more than a year now, the Salem Homeless Coalition has been talking about a resource center for adults experiencing homelessness.  For awhile, they hoped the First Christian Church might devote their building at 625 Marion Street, currently occupied by the Department of Energy, to that purpose.  Lately, though, they've begun looking elsewhere, like this Front Street property. 

910 Front Street at bottom, UGM upper right
Notably, however, this building is diagonally just across D Street from the UGM store, where UGM's planning to build its new Mission (and offer many if not all of the services contemplated for the resource(+) center).  Salem has a history of locating its charitable causes where ever someone happens to donate a building or space -- and you'd have thought by now we'd have realized it's a poor basis for making an investment decision, as tempting as it might be to accept a "free gift."

Another reality is the cost of converting a building like this vs. building anew; it's often more expensive in the long run to convert, and this is true whether you're converting a warehouse to SROs or, say, a city bus to a shower bus.  You think it's going to be cheaper with donated labor and whatnot, and when it ends up not being cheaper, you've got all that sunk cost you feel you can't walk away from.  Been there, done that.

Which is not to say conversions never work.  At the last MWHITF meeting, we got a preview of the Center for Hope and Safety's plan to convert (or tear down?) the old Greyhound Bus Station (adjacent to their administrative offices at 605 Center St NE and across Church Street from the Macy's parking garage) to retail space under a couple of floors of "transitional housing" units.  The difference between this and the Front Street property is that, unlike Front Street, the bus station space was retail originally, and, if the whole thing isn't torn down, at least the housing units will be new construction up top.  CHS is hoping the City will help with this project (CDBG or HOME funds, perhaps), which we almost always do. 

Finally, a word about the Salem Homeless Coalition's other project, Home Base Shelters of Salem, which seeks to bring to Salem a sanctioned camping program along the lines of Eugene's "Rest Stops."  (Discussed previously here.)  It's been shopped around privately to the usual suspects, but hasn't yet been presented formally to City Council, despite light agendas for the last two meetings, and there's been no announcement as to when it might be presented.  (Waiting for the 2017 Council, perhaps?)  There doesn't appear to be any public outreach taking place, no potential sites appear to have been chosen, and the website remains for the most part "under construction." (You can't even find a description of the program there.)  Finally, even though two of HBSS's directors are on the MWHI Task Force, they haven't so much as mentioned the project at any of the meetings or in their committees.  So, even though the project leadership has indicated to the SHC that the project remains viable, the evidence, including the casual comments of public officials, indicate otherwise.  

Salmon Run on High Street

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