City News, ECONOMY

City to buy former Boise Cascade lot downtown in hopes of redevelopment

The city of Salem will spend $3.5 million to buy a vacant lot next to Riverfront Park after development plans on the downtown parcel stalled.

The city is buying a 1.14 acre lot at 295 Commercial St. S.E., part of the former site of the Boise Cascade paper mill, from Marquis, a Milwaukie-based senior living company, in hopes of spurring development on the long-vacant parcel.

City councilors, acting as Salem’s Urban Renewal Agency board at a Monday evening meeting, unanimously approved moving $1.8 million between city funds to make the purchase possible.

Councilors previously authorized the purchase at an April 10 Urban Renewal Agency board meeting.

“This purchase and sale agreement is really, really exciting and I’m so happy that that worked out,” Mayor Chris Hoy said at the April meeting. “Looking forward to getting that property back on the market and to make it a really productive part of downtown.”

Marquis had planned to build a rehabilitation center on the property for several years, but plans stalled and the company determined the project was no longer financially feasible, urban development manager Kristen Retherford told councilors.

The city doesn’t have a specific plan to develop the property and acquired it as an “opportunity purchase to be able to have control over future use,” Retherford told Salem Reporter.

The money for the land will be split between the Riverfront Urban Renewal Area and the South Waterfront Urban Renewal Area, since the property lies within both areas.

When the city establishes an urban renewal area, some property taxes from the area can be used to fund projects designed to increase property values and remove blight. 

Taxes collected on the urban renewal area’s existing value go toward local governments, like the city, county and school district. But as property values increase, taxes on the new value go toward the urban renewal district.

Councilors voted to move $1.8 million from the South Waterfront area that had been allocated for future projects, Pringle Creek trail improvements and project coordination to fund the purchase. The Riverfront area already had money budgeted for a land purchase this year.

The purchase comes as downtown Salem is seeing a significant amount of new development on both city and privately-owned land.

The Boise Cascade Mill shut its doors in 2007, and the construction of the South Block Apartments in 2014 on the site was one of downtown’s first major housing developments.

The city’s urban renewal agency has spent years acquiring lots on a block of north downtown that formerly held the Union Gospel Mission’s men’s mission. After demolition of buildings late last year, city officials plan to sell the land after putting out a call for proposals that must include affordable housing.

The city’s public works department finished restoration along Pringle Creek in the urban renewal area in early 2020.

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.