Josh Benham

During an Urban Renewal Agency work session last month, Economic Development Director Christine Jarski said the old International Order of Odd Fellows building was the “most blighted property” in downtown La Grande.

If a pending deal goes through, that vision could be a thing of the past.

Seth Pennington said he’s in the process of purchasing the IOOF building at 1106 Adams Ave., which is owned by the URA and is currently vacant.

Pennington said he’s a lifelong resident of La Grande. His father, brother and two friends will be coming into the IOOF project if the deal goes through. He said the Penningtons run a family construction company.

“We’ve got an accepted offer, and we are getting all the financing lined up with Community Bank,” Pennington said, adding that they have a scheduled closing date of June 30.

The group’s plan is to put two retail storefronts on the first floor. Pennington said they’re already in negotiation with two interested parties.
Non-disclosure agreements prohibited him from discussing specifics about the possible businesses, but he did reveal that one was a “pretty prominent business looking to franchise in La Grande.”

For the second and third floors, the plan would be to put in 10 to 12 apartments, Pennington said. The spaces would be a mixture of studios, one- and two-bedroom units, and he said they would be all inclusive, with utilities and internet included in the rent.

Jarski is “extremely excited” about the potential sale of the building. She said the city has already invested more than $400,000 to prepare the building for development. That was partially funded by grants it received from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Business Oregon for environmental remediation work.

“Our goal all the time (was) to prepare the building for redevelopment and to restore a historic asset,” Jarski said.

She said the building was actually two separate structures that have been made into one over the years. The taller half was the original Odd Fellows building, and the shorter building previously housed the State Theatre, among other operations.

Pennington said his group contributed $200,000 into purchasing the building. The proposed renovations would bring the total project cost to about $750,000. The purchasing group received a big boost last week when Oregon Heritage, a division of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, awarded La Grande Main Street Downtown a matching grant of $100,000 to go toward the IOOF project.

Oregon Heritage awarded 27 grants totaling nearly $2.5 million to Oregon Main Street Network organizations for “building projects that encourage economic revitalization,” according to a news release. State lottery grants backed the grants.

Main Street Executive Director Thomas Taylor and Pennington said the grant will be applied toward the entire project, pending the building sale. Taylor said the grant will help make restoring the “huge building” more feasible.

He was ecstatic to see his organization get the grant for the purchase and the project.

“It’s a great program and a great project,” Taylor said. “It’s going to remove a tremendous amount of blight in our downtown core.”

Taylor and his Main Street colleagues wrote and applied for the grant, and they found out earlier this month the grant had been awarded. He pointed out that getting the grant will not only improve La Grande’s downtown — it has the potential to save a historic building.

“It’s really important to save those old buildings,” Taylor said. “They provide the character for the way our downtown community looks and feels.”

While Pennington said the purchasing group looks at the building as a good investment, he agrees with Taylor, saying the group will have a “sense of pride” renovating the IOOF building.

“It’s a building that’s an eyesore,” Pennington said. “We’re excited to be a part of (the project).”

Jarski echoed that excitement, stating the city is looking forward to working with the purchasing group and their vast construction experience. She said recent projects like the Market Place Underground, Market Place Family Foods and the boutique hotel and coffee house being constructed at 1501 Adams Ave. are evidence of the uptick in downtown development.

“We have a lot of really great projects on Adams,” she said.