Cherriots and Walmart are negotiating over a swath of the retailer's parking lot, near the intersection of Commercial Street Southeast and Baxter Road. (Salem Reporter files)
Cherriots may have less than a month to secure a piece of Walmart’s parking lot in south Salem, where it hopes to build a new transit center, or risk losing $1 million in state funding.
Allan Pollock, general manager of the transit district, told Salem Reporter the district plans to build a new center on par with its Keizer and Salem centers to serve the growing south end of town, and will use money from the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Those funds have an oncoming deadline: acquire the property by Nov. 27.
Pollock said he’s still hopeful both sides can come to terms before then. Meanwhile, the prospect of eminent domain lingers.
“We’re still at the point to see if we can come to an agreement as partners. I believe we’ve addressed their concerns and we’re waiting to hear their response,” Pollock said.
Cherriots wants to build the center to serve Salem’s growing southern sector and has since 2015 hoped to take the southwestern corner of Walmart’s parking lot, near the intersection of Commercial Street Southeast and Baxter Road.
It’s unclear how important the state funding is to the proposed center because Cherriots does not yet know what the center will cost. Officials said the district hoped to start the design phase first before getting estimates.
In April, the transit board authorized Pollock to use eminent domain to take the property, but he has not yet taken that step. Oregon law allows some public bodies to use eminent domain to take private property as long as it is in the public interest and the property owner is compensated.
Meanwhile, Walmart said the two sides’ lawyers met regularly in October, but aren’t close to a deal.
“We’ve had ongoing, active dialog for the entire month,” said spokeswoman Deborah Herron. “The conversation had not yet gotten to what I would call a business transaction or real estate negotiation.”
The Arkansas-based retailer has argued Cherriots’ proposal would cost too many parking spaces for potential customers. They also said the added congestion of bus traffic could be dangerous for customers and shipping trucks that regularly visit the store.
The retailer also disputes Cherriots’ appraisal of $787,000 for the property.
Already the two sides have blown past self-imposed deadlines. They had first hoped to make a deal Sept. 11. Then a 30-day extension to Oct. 11 came and went.
The state’s deadline applies a different pressure, Pollock said.
The grant, called the Connect Oregon grant, uses lottery dollars to reimburse costs for an array of transportation projects — from bike trails to airports to bus lines. It was awarded to Cherriots a few years ago. Katie Thiel, who oversees the project for ODOT, said deadlines ensure approved projects move forward.
The grant requires the land to be secured in November, for construction to start in August 2019 and the center to be up and running by September 2020.
A similar situation is playing out with Salem Keizer-School District, which said last week it is considering taking a church-owned field via eminent domain to grapple with the growth of McNary High School.
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