Saying it already has pledged donations to fully cover architectural drawings and masonry work, The Dalles Main Street Program wants the city to donate the Waldron/Gitchell Building to it to spare the 154-year-old building from the wrecking ball.

The Dalles City Council has a work session Monday, Aug. 26 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 313 Court St., and will discuss the proposal.

“Even though we won’t make a final decision on that day at least people that are there will come away with an indication of which way the council’s headed,” said Mayor Rich Mays.

Almost a year ago, the city council directed staff to pursue demolition of the building, citing liability concerns should it collapse, a lack of public interest in preserving it, and the need to make room for future expansion of the adjacent sewer plant.

In June, staff indicated they were ready to issue a request for proposals for demolition, and in July council asked for a work session on the topic.

The Waldron is the only surviving commercial building north of First Street, and one of the oldest commercial buildings in Oregon, according to a proposal submitted to the city by The Dalles Main Street Program and the recently formed non-profit, Friends of the Waldron Brothers Drugstore.

The Main Street program is asking the city to make a contribution of up to $350,000 toward the restoration of the building. Main Street has already identified pledges of up to $250,000 to cover masonry work, architectural drawing and other services.

It has more than $20,000 in additional pledged money if Main Street and the city reach agreement, plus more than $2,000 in donated money.

It has also identified up to $750,000 in private matching funds, which it hopes to quickly pursue. It is asking the city to quickly consider its proposal so it can begin the grant process.

Dan Spatz, a former city councilor and editor and co-author of a book on Wasco County’s history, wrote a letter to the city saying the Waldron/Gitchell should be preserved, but relocated.

He listed other historic buildings that were relocated. He said moving it would take time. “Let’s not rush to demolition.”

A marketing study sought by the non-profit group found the best use of the building would be a bike hub, given the work on a bike trail connecting Portland to The Dalles.

Proposed is putting a bike hub in the basement, an event space on the main floor, and offices for the Main Street program on the upper floor. Also proposed is using the space for vendors during cruise ship season.

The proposed uses would promote the city, the Main Street program, and the city’s nearby Lewis and Clark Festival Park.

Main Street proposes access go through the festival park’s parking lot immediately to the west of the building.

Improvements would include building shear walls 12 feet in from the current walls to stabilize the building. It would not result in loss of space because the walled off space created could be used for bike storage.

The Main Street program decided about a month ago to take on and manage the Waldron project with the Friends of the Waldron.

The building, fully known as the Waldron Brothers Drugstore/Gitchell Building, was built in 1863-65 by Henry Klindt, the great grandfather of the late Philip Klindt. He sold it to Henry and George Waldron, who added a post office two years later.

It survived two fires in 1878. And 100 years later, in 1978, the city purchased the building to preserve it from demolition as the Union Pacific Railroad moved its tracks northward to get them out of the middle of First Street.

A staff report noted the building’s south wall is just 12 feet from the midpoint of the northernmost railroad track. The standard distance from centerline to a building required by the railroad is 25 feet without providing a crash wall. An alternative to a crash wall is a shear wall, which would be about 13 feet north of the existing southern wall.

The building, which had been apartments and was the home base of the Windy River Gleaners, later fell out of use. It inspired the design of the Union Street underpass.

As of 2017, the city has spent over $316,500 on the building to buy, evaluate and stabilize it.

A 2009 report the city commissioned estimated it would take at least $780,000 to firm up the foundation and do other repairs. The Main Street proposal believes it can drive the cost down to $500,000 through “good negotiation and planning,” and noted some costs have already been dealt with by the city.

In urging that the building be saved, the report from Main Street said citizens want to retain the city’s history and use it as a promotional tool.

The Main Street program estimates that with a city contribution, it could quickly begin work and have the main floor up and running by next summer.

Revenue from events at the main floor would be used to help pay for restoration of the second floor, which could possibly be finished by summer or fall of 2021.

The report notes that the city’s wastewater treatment plant, immediately to the east of the Waldron Building, is projected to need expansion by 2039-49. But Main Street argued that even with that possible timeline, that would give the community years of usage of a refurbished Waldron Building, and if it had to be relocated at that point, it would be less costly because all needed upgrades would have been done.

The proposal urged the council to be forward-thinking and preserve the building. “This is a much better strategy than the legacy that would be left by a council that planned and executed the demolition of a significant historical building…” the proposal stated.v

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