City News, ECONOMY

Demolition begins on former UGM, Saffron buildings

Demolition began this week on a vacant downtown block the city of Salem plans to redevelop after years of work.

The block includes the former Union Gospel Mission, Saffron Supply Co. and ABC Music, all located between Northeast Commercial, Chemeketa, Front and Center streets.

The city’s Urban Renewal Agency purchased the former home of the Union Gospel Mission for $1.575 million last summer after the shelter moved into its new location north of downtown, completing city property acquisitions on the block. The building was about 30,000 square feet.

Following demolition, the city plans to sell the property so it can be developed as a mixed-use block with affordable housing, as well as retail.

“Redevelopment of this block will change the profile of downtown and add vitality, energy, and usefulness to an area that is Salem’s city-center gateway from the west,” said Kristin Retherford, Salem’s Urban Development Department Director, in an October statement about the project. “Downtown Salem has been experiencing a renaissance in major investment and development, and this is yet another tremendous opportunity to create a more vibrant urban core.”

The city contracted with 3 Kings, a Northwest environmental, excavating and demolition firm, to demolish the buildings and remove any hazardous materials.

Many of the buildings on the block were historic, with the Saffron building dating back to 1888. It was once the home of the State Insurance Company and the Oregon Land Company, where U.S. President Herbert Hoover worked briefly as an office boy when he lived in Oregon.

The Star Exchange Building on Commercial Street Northeast in Salem, 1946 (Salem Public Library/Ben Maxwell Collection)

The city’s historic preservation officer, Kimberli Fitzgerald, and the city’s historic landmarks commission reviewed the demolition and concluded the Saffron building’s exterior “has gone through significant alterations beginning in 1960 when the upper stories of the building were removed and therefore does not retain sufficient integrity for designation as a local historic resource.”

But the historic review of the property required the city to salvage some pieces of the buildings for historical interpretation prior to demolition, and to create educational resources which must be on display at the Urban Development Department within 12 months of a new building being granted a certificate of occupancy on the site.

The review calls for salvage or photographing of exterior cast iron columns on multiple buildings, as well as the bank vault inside the former Union Gospel Mission.

New buildings will have signage about the site’s history, the review said.

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.