The Urban Renewal Agency and the Urban Renewal Advisory Commission held the first of multiple meetings to discuss the policy — and specifically the point system — of the agency’s annual Call for Projects.
At a special work session Monday night, the URA and URAC met to listen to business owner Gust Tsiatsos’ request to scale back his Texaco Station project, which he received $50,000 for during the 2018 Call for Projects. He originally requested $125,000, which is the amount he based the project’s budget on. He said he may not be able to go forward with the project since he received less than half of what he had requested.
“We considered backing off the project until next year,” Tsiatsos told The Observer on Tuesday.
The Call for Projects program was designed to focus on buildings in La Grande’s Urban Renewal District that need to be revitalized. Grants are awarded to projects that meet certain criteria: revitalize downtown; create high-quality family-wage jobs; provide retail development, housing, transportation or community facilities.
The Urban Renewal Agency weighs successful applications on a point system. Preference is given to projects with a business plan that shows promise as a viable for-profit business, projects that revitalize the Central Business District, projects with a job creation component and projects that reduce blight.
Generally, the maximum amount of money a project can receive is $75,000 and the minimum grant is $5,000. The URA has $150,000 to give per grant cycle.
Tsiatsos is the owner of The Landing Hotel, located across Adams Avenue from the proposed Texaco Station project. The Landing Hotel previously received grant money from Call for Projects.
During the 2018 Call for Projects meeting, Tsiatsos said the Texaco Station project will convert the historic gas station property, preserving its uniqueness, into a for-profit business that will add five hotel rooms, a coffee shop and a meeting room to the downtown area. One of its primary uses would be to give Eastern Oregon University a downtown space to utilize as a classroom or meeting place.
“I think it’s important for us to recognize how much of an impact the university has on this community,” he said on Tuesday. “I’m in a position to help benefit them. There’s a risk (to the project), but I want to help the university. Things like (the renovated Texaco Station) would make La Grande a bit more inviting to the university and maybe make students want to stay in town to work.”
Tsiatsos requested he be able to keep the originally approved grant amount of $50,000 to be used on a scaled-back project, which would postpone the hotel room portion of the renovation, and possibly come back next cycle to request funding for that additional part. He also said he would consider pulling the request completely and resubmit the project next cycle in hopes of receiving the necessary funding.
URA Manager Robert Strope said a request for significant reductions to a project has not been made previous to this and there’s nothing in the policy that addresses such a request.
“We have had projects that did not complete all elements of their (plans) but have not reduced the grant amount as a result. However, none of those had a reduction in scope of the magnitude contemplated in this instance,” Strope wrote to the URAC in a summation of the request provided in the commission’s information packet.
See more in Wednesday's edition of The Observer.