City News, ECONOMY

City moves forward with demolition of former UGM block

Salem is seeking contractors to begin demolition on a now-vacant downtown block, a major step forward in a city effort to redevelop the area.

The city now owns most of the block between Northeast Commercial, Chemeketa, Front and Center streets after purchasing the former home of the Union Gospel Mission for $1.575 million last summer. The building was about 30,000 square feet.

That final property acquisition means the city can move forward with plans to demolish existing structures and sell the land to a developer to build on. Salem’s Urban Renewal Agency in 2019 acquired four other parcels on the block totaling 20,000 square feet at a cost of about $2 million.

An alley view of a former men’s dormitory at Salem’s old Union Gospel Mission site at 355 Commercial St. N.E. The block is now owned by the city and awaiting demolition in late 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Sheri Wahgren, Salem downtown revitalization manager, said the city’s downtown advisory board has discussed various possible uses for the space, including a grocery store, other retail and housing. But ultimately, she said they decided to put out a broad request for qualifications to see what people might be interested in doing with the space.

The block would accommodate a mixed use development, with both retail and housing components.

“Maybe there’s something we don’t know that somebody would see going in there. We want to spread the net as broad as possible,” Wahgren said.

The Urban Renewal Agency posted an invitation to bid on the demolition earlier this month on Oregon Buys and will accept bids until Aug. 30, Wahgren said. The intent is to have the demolition work completed by the end of the year.

In addition to UGM, the block was formerly home to Saffron Supply Company and Runaway Art & Craft Center, which both moved out of downtown, and ABC Music Company, which closed its doors last year.

The building on Northeast Chemeketa Street that once housed Runaway Art & Craft Studio in downtown Salem is fenced off as the city of Salem, which now owns the property, prepares for demolition in late 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

One stipulation the city will have: whatever developers propose doing with the space must include new affordable housing units, Wahgren said. Those must make up a minimum of 20% of all units. Affordable means a household making 80% of the city’s median income — about $47,000 per year — would be able to afford a unit.

Salem’s existing affordable housing is generally outside the downtown core, and Wahgren said the agency wants to make more affordable housing available downtown.

“We want that. We’re asking for that if you want consideration,” she said.

In the meantime, Wahgren said she’s been working to make the property ready for development, including consolidating 13 separate lots on the block into three and widening the alley running down the middle of the block, which is currently too narrow to meet modern fire codes.

Wahgren said the goal is “when somebody buys it, it’s as ready to go as possible.”

Previous coverage

Salem Urban Renewal Agency acquires downtown land, Saffron Supply Co. property

A place to buy a guitar since 1964, ABC Music Company closes

Saffron Supply Co. moves business after century downtown

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.