The Dalles The Dalles Mayor Jim Wilcox believes the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency is spending too much money to help a developer revitalize the downtown Granada block.
“I’m a cheerleader for the success of this project,” he said. “I think it could be good for our downtown and good for the area. However, I think we have put more into it than we should have.”
Wilcox said most of the initial costs to prepare for siting of a high-end hotel next to the historic theater will be paid with urban renewal dollars. He said the Rapoza Development Group, which stands to profit from the venture, should have been required to bear more of those expenses.
He said urban renewal is paying almost all the expenses for a parking
structure that could cost as much as $3 million, plus the cost of an archeological study to identify any issues that might affect earthmoving activities. Although he does not know the cost of that analysis, Wilcox said it could be as high as several hundred thousand dollars. In addition, he said Urban Renewal is picking up the tab for an environmental survey and an asbestos and lead evaluation on the Recreation Building property, which the agency owns but plans to sell to Rapoza for $356,240 plus 50 percent of the amount of past due taxes, plus penalties and interest.
On top of these expenditures, Wilcox said Urban Renewal is on the hook to finance up to $100,00 for demolition of the Recreation Building and provide $200,000 for installation of new HVAC and sprinkler systems at the Granada.
Urban Renewal will also arrange a loan interest subsidy for 15 years if the developer borrows funds to remodel the theater, which will have its historical character preserved. The interest rate on the borrowed funds cannot exceed 5.75 percent and the value of the subsidy must not exceed $132,000.
“It all comes down to dollars and cents,” he said. “I think we’re offering the developer more than was really necessary.”
Although Wilcox, in his role as chair of the Urban Renewal board, comprised of city councilors, voted Monday against the agreement, the remaining five board members approved it.
In his staff report prior to the vote, Dan Durow, director of the city’s Planning and Community Development Department, said the Granada block was comprised of buildings that were 75 percent vacant or underutilized.
“It is a substantial blight in our downtown area,” he said.
Durow said the agreement between Urban Renewal and Rapoza was not the final document to be signed. He said the Disposition and Development Agreement that legally bound both parties to the agreed-upon terms, which could still be negotiated, was expected to be signed by the end of September.
He said performance measures would be established in the final draft that set a timeline for completion of the $20 million project. He said multiple opportunities during the site plan review process would be provided for community members to review plans and comment.
He said, although conceptual drawings of the hotel had been shown, these were only preliminary visuals and subject to change as plans unfolded.
“Those are really just for illustration purposes more than anything else and don’t represent what the hotel will look like on the outside,” said Durow.
John Nelson, a member of the city planning commission who also sits on the Main Street Project’s design committee, asked that an independent archeologist be consulted to comment on the designs Rapoza brought forward.
“Let’s get another eye in there,” he said.
Eric Gleason, an archeologist and owner of a downtown building, volunteered his services to help with the study of properties on the belief they had historical significance. He stated a preference for having the structures on the Granada block refurbished instead of replaced.
“You can look at them two ways; either as an asset or a liability,” he said. “People love to come and see them. And it concerns me that the first step in the project negatively impacts historic resources.”
Wilcox said no one had expressed an interest in renovating the aging buildings so Urban Renewal had limited options to work with.
Steve Lawrence, a candidate for mayor and former member of the Civic Auditorium board of directors, chastised Urban Renewal officials for spending more than two years in negotiations with Rapoza behind closed doors.
“I hope this development does everything it’s supposed to do and is a huge success – but I hope the community never goes through a process like this again,” he said.
Lawrence said, going forward, citizens of The Dalles needed to be informed about the financial strength of Rapoza’s proposal. He said the community also needed to know the development group was meeting standards that would be set in the final agreement.
Brian Ahier, a Urban Renewal board member, said he believed the agency had a track record of “overusing” its ability to hold executive sessions, but he was in agreement that negotiating the sale of city properties should be done in a confidential setting.
In addition to buying the Recreation Building, Rapoza will purchase the Granada for $365,406, Blue Building for $380,000, and Commodore II parking lot for $102,000.
Lawrence said Urban Renewal had not fulfilled its financial obligation to the Civic before tackling a new project, which he felt was unfair and detrimental to another historic downtown asset.
Nolan Young, city manager, said Urban Renewal grant funds had been set aside for projects that would enhance the Civic if that board chose to apply for them. He offered to provide the agency board with a list of monies already spent on the auditorium and the amount of capital now available at a September meeting.