New clinic tops list of urban funding recommendations

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer February 09, 2011 03:10 pm

This  vacant lot at 1004 Jefferson Ave. is the site of a $1 million  medical clinic to be built this year by Independent Medical Providers LLC.  The City of La Grande Urban Renewal Agency is considering  chipping in  $75,000 for streetscape  improvements.  BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
This vacant lot at 1004 Jefferson Ave. is the site of a $1 million medical clinic to be built this year by Independent Medical Providers LLC. The City of La Grande Urban Renewal Agency is considering chipping in $75,000 for streetscape improvements. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer

Physicians group plans to build clinic at Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue

A number of public and private projects are on the La Grande Urban Renewal Agency’s radar screen these days, including a plan by a physicians group to build a

$1 million clinic at the corner of Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue.

The city’s Urban Renewal Advisory Commission met with the agency in a work session Monday, making funding recommendations. The commission gave the clinic project a top ranking.

“By all accounts it is a wonderful project in terms of investment, taxes and job creation,” said Community and Economic Director Charlie Mitchell, the city’s liaison to the advisory commission.

A group called Independent Medical Providers LLC has plans to build the clinic this spring, though it hasn’t yet filed for planning and building department permits.

Answering a URAC call for project proposals last December, the group applied for $75,000 in urban renewal money to help with the cost of streetlights and other exterior improvements in the area of Fourth and Jefferson.

According to the group’s application, construction of the clinic will begin in April.

“We believe that this project could be the cornerstone of future development along Jefferson Avenue, with the right relationship and guidance from URAC,” Tyler Kennedy, the group’s representative, wrote in the application.

Contacted today, Kennedy said he could not talk about the project until he conferred with the various partners. He did say plans for the clinic are definite.

The lot on which the clinic will be built was last occupied by a used car dealer. The dealer went out of business a couple of years ago, and the property, behind the Mamacita’s restaurant and across Fourth from the city library, has been vacant since.

The city has long hoped it will be put to good use.

“This project will dramatically change how that intersection gets used,” said Mitchell.

The La Grande City Council also sits as the city’s Urban Renewal Agency. The agency is the primary tool at the city’s disposal to stimulate local economic development and foster property improvements.

City Manager Robert Strope said

See RENEWAL, 2BMonday that including money in contingency, the agency has about $350,000 on hand to help property owners — or in some cases, the city itself — with construction or reconstruction projects. The sum doesn’t include money set aside for the city’s facade grant and Main Street programs.

Strope also said the agency could comfortably borrow up to $1.5 million to further fund projects.

At present, there is a strong push on to revamp the downtown area. Most of the projects the commission is recommending for funding are located in the city center.

One of those is the IOOF building at 1106 Adams Ave. The long-vacant structure is in need of repairs the current owners can’t afford, and is considered a blight by the commission. The owners have expressed a willingness to donate the building to the city.

The commission is recommending the urban renewal agency take ownership of the building and fund environmental clean-up and some exterior improvements.

The project was ranked high because the commission considers the building a liability in the effort to improve the city’s central business district.

“If we do spruce up the rest of downtown, we still have that eyesore,” said John Bozarth, a city councilor who has served  in the past as chair of the URAC.

 Cost of the environmental clean-up and repairs would be about $200,000, with some of it paid by grants.

Another option the agency can consider is total or partial demolition. Bozarth said he leans toward razing the building, mainly because the expenses of ownership will continue to mount.

“I think it could turn into a real money pit. Would it be better to tear it down and put in a pocket park? I don’t know,” he said.

Mitchell said he thinks the building should be preserved because of its historical significance. He said demolition would cost about $100,000. On top of that, it would cost money to build a park or otherwise fill the space in.

“The demolition and relieving the hole in the ground could go $200,000,” Mitchell said.

Janet Dodson, URAC chair, said during the meeting she also favors preservation.

If the city did invest in the building, it would later try and sell it, either back to the owners who donated it, or to someone else. Strope cautioned that if the building is added to the inventory, it will likely remain there a long time.

“I’m talking years,” he said.

Another urban renewal project rated at the top by the commission is the planned streetscape for the so-called “Big H” area downtown, encompassing Depot and Elm streets between Jefferson and Washington avenues.

Streetscape projects include lighting, benches and trash cans, replacement or improvement of sidewalks, gutters and curbs, and other exterior work. The Big H streetscape project, covering five blocks, would cost about $500,000.

A project closely related to that is a makeover of the parking lot at Washington Avenue and Elm Street. The space, which lies within the Big H, would be turned into a combination public plaza and parking lot. Cost is estimated at $75,000.

Beginning last year, the commission identified some 17 possible urban renewal projects, including nine that came in following a solicited call for projects in December.

Some of the projects on the list were deemed not ready for consideration. Others were recommended for funding but for lower amounts than requested. Still others were not recommended for funding at all.

Other projects rated high by the commission are interior improvements for the Maridell Center at 1124 Washington Ave., a remodel for the building at 1517-1525 Jefferson Ave. owned by Peter and Marilyn Fallow, and an expansion of Bud Jackson’s Sports Bar.

At an agency work session March 14, eligible applicants will have the chance to make presentations on their projects.

The agency may make some final funding decisions during its meeting March 16.