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Collapse of ORI deal may rekindle interest in Sears site.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

Three years after losing out to Oregon Research Institute for the chance to redevelop the old Sears & Roebuck site in downtown Eugene, two of the three developers who submitted proposals back then say they still might be interested in the opportunity.

ORI announced last week that it couldn't make the deal with the city of Eugene work. The nonprofit research group said it couldn't fill a $5 million hole in financing that would allow it to proceed with a new, nearly $25 million facility for its 250 employees at West 10th Avenue and Charnelton Street.

The organization has missed five deadlines in the past 18 months to come up with the funds to purchase the property from the city.

But even if the city-owned property comes back on the market, not everyone who indicated interest in it in the past may jump at the chance to redevelop it.

Jenny Ulum of Ulum Associates, speaking for a team of developers trying to put together a major redevelopment project within a block of the old Sears location, said possible interest by Tom Connor and Don Woolley in the newly available property "is not something they will be commenting on at this time."

Connor and Woolley, who own substantial amounts of property in downtown Eugene, held talks with ORI a year ago about joining forces to help get the project off the ground but apparently never came to an agreement.

And longtime Eugene-area developer Norm Fogelstrom, who came in second in the competition for the site the first time around, said Friday he's no longer interested in making another proposal.

"I was going to do six or seven stories of condominiums with retail on the bottom level," Fogelstrom said. `But I was going to (reuse) the old building for the commercial - I was surprised at how strong it was. When the city tore it down, they ruined that.'

The other two proposals submitted three years ago came from Sockeye Development in Portland and Eugene-based Arlie & Co.

Sadie Dressekie, marketing director for Arlie, said that, while the company considered the old Sears building "a key piece of property that would help revitalize downtown Eugene," it would have to reevaluate the situation if the city decides to put the site on the market again.

"It's a key piece of property, and it's now in a prime location across the street from the new public library," Dressekie said.

"We're always interested in projects that might benefit the community - if it is going up for sale, we would certainly do our research and find out what the possibilities might be," she added.

Arlie's original idea was to redevelop the site with a mixture of retail and office use on the lower levels, with condominiums and apartments above, she said.

Carter McNichol, a managing partner with Sockeye Development, said his group also would have created a mix of retail and housing.

"Our proposal was to put 52 apartments on five floors above the retail level," McNichol said. "We submitted a plan that would have cleared the site. We wouldn't say `no' to the chance to submit another one. A lot of things can change in three years - site, neighborhood, financing - but we certainly would consider making another proposal."

Sockeye and other developers could get that chance.

Mike Sullivan, manager of the city of Eugene's community development division, said Friday that the City Council will talk about what to do next at a work session on April 12.

`It was originally intended as an update (about the ORI project),' Sullivan said, "but given what's happened, we will start a conversation with the council about what will happen next. One of the potential outcomes could be another request for proposals."

Eugene City Manager Dennis Taylor said earlier last week that other developers also had been expressing interest in the old Sears site for the past several months when it became apparent that ORI might not be able to solve its funding problems.

Cynthia Guinn, executive director of ORI, said the research group may begin a financial campaign soon to raise money to purchase another new or renovated, environmentally friendly building.

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Passers-by peer into a huge pool at the site of the former Sears building.
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Title Annotation:Real Estate & Housing
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 27, 2006
Words:711
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