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Monmouth City Manager Scott McClure, left, and City Councilor Jon Carey on the potential development site.
September 04, 2012
MONMOUTH -- Filling the half block opposite Main Street Park with a multistory, mixed-use complex that includes more than 100 apartments sounded like an ambitious idea when city leaders first began exploring it almost a year ago.
Their analysis has chugged along slowly, but steadily, with last week bringing the first visual representation of the concept to the public.
The feedback? Pretty good, actually.
"It's a prime piece of real estate in the middle of downtown," said Jon Carey, Monmouth City Councilor. "I think when you start to look at what the positive impacts of building there could be, it resonates ... there's an opportunity here if somebody runs with it."
The "real estate" in question are the four contiguous lots that comprise half a block across from Warren Street. Those properties are owned by Tom and Gail Kleinke, the city of Monmouth and Western Oregon University.
A hypothetical development, looking northwest from the corner of Main and Warrent streets in Monmouth.
Officials commissioned Shiels Obletz Johnsen Inc., a Portland-based firm, in 2011 to examine retail and commercial opportunities on those parcels. Consultants said first-floor retail stores, mixed with upper-story apartments for university students, could prosper -- if the parties can settle on a design and find a private developer willing to take on the project.
Shiels Obletz Johnsen Inc. has been talking with the property owners, investors and local builders since. Part of this process was public feedback, to see if residents were keen on a potentially three- or four-story building on the site as envisioned, said City Manager Scott McClure.
"If people had said it was a bad idea, we would have stepped back and come up with something else," McClure said.
Monmouth asked local architect Jane Honbeck to come up with a hypothetical design to illustrate the size and scope of a building that stands three- and four-stories.
Her concept, however, set back the upper floors away from the street in several areas, and utilized several architectural styles and outdoor verandas to give the impression that the single complex was a mix of buildings.
Consultants used an example of a three-story complex on Main Street and a four-floor building on the university property, with 120 living units between them as a cost reference for a project; it came out to a collective $24 million. That price was not based on the drawing.
An Aug. 28 forum was held to allow residents to weigh in on the size and the appearance, and parking issues it would create.
"This is something that's going to change what happens downtown," said Tom Fuller, SOJ project manager. "Are you ready to see some fairly significant development happen?"
Many in the audience were.
Dwight Triplett, who co-owns Petals & Vines, said Monmouth is painfully low on available retail space. The proposed complex would mean a potential influx of competitors for him -- which he wants.
"We would welcome that," he said. "This would bring in foot traffic."
Megan Habermann, a WOU employee, said the vacant block makes downtown seem more distant to students and that it's not worth walking to.
Looking southwest from the corner of Jackson and Warren streets, a hypothetical design for a building shows what a development could possibly look like.
"For them, it feels like there isn't options here and whether that's true or false, that's what they think," Habermann said. "This ... would make it undeniable that there was things to do and see in Monmouth."
The audience generally agreed that replacement parking must be created; McClure said a mixed-use development would drop between 150 and 200 more cars in downtown. The drawing includes a half-basement parking structure beneath the Warren Street side of the complex.
Some said the building should be erected in phases. More than one attendee opined the city seek out developers with proven track records of completing projects.
Donna Pippin, a Monmouth resident, said she was originally aghast at the notion of a four-story building in downtown. There are other buildings here that should be fixed up first, she said.
"But that looks good," Pippin said of the drawing. "I applaud the design, it's well done."
McClure said the Warren Street Project is still "barely at the starting line," and that there are many logistical questions that need to be answered.
The next steps will likely involve the three property owners crafting a development plan, then gauging interest in the proposal from the development community.
"It's reasonable that we could start contacting people in a month or two," he said.