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Downtown building up for auction.

Byline: Joe Mosley The Register-Guard

A bargain basement - maybe even a bargain penthouse - could be on the block Friday when former Eugene businessman Ed Aster continues his liquidation of local assets with a public auction of a prominent downtown building that once served as headquarters for his publishing business.

Aster in 2002 moved to New Zealand to buy a winery and a hotel, and has since sold most of his holdings at the Westec business park he developed in west Eugene.

But he has so far been unable to find a buyer for the largely empty 66,000-square-foot Aster Publishing Building at 845 Willamette St. in downtown Eugene. That could change tomorrow, when the property will be auctioned at 1:30 p.m. in a session to be held on the building's fifth floor.

It's unusual for an owner to hold a public auction for an office building. Typically, owners market such properties through commercial brokerages.

Aster moved to Lane County from California in 1982, bringing with him a growing string of trade magazines, first to Springfield and later to the Willamette Street building. He bought the building in a distress sale at a bargain price of $2.65 million - about half its construction cost - in 1986, as Lane County was still mired in a deep recession.

Aster's representative for tomorrow's auction, Milton Oilar of Campbell Commercial Real Estate in Eugene, declined to be interviewed - on instructions from Aster, according to a receptionist in the real estate office.

But an advertisement for the auction describes the property as "one of Eugene's best-built office buildings," with street-level shops, a basement, brick construction and wiring for fiber-optic telecommunications.

Aster in 1993 sold most of his magazines to Cleveland-based Advanstar Communications, and segued into real estate development.

For years, he managed to keep the Willamette Street building largely full. But now it is mostly vacant.

The city of Eugene's finance department was a major tenant in the building until the city completed its new downtown library a year ago, and the finance offices moved to the library's top floor. Advanstar's magazines were big tenants for years, but last year, Advanstar shut the office and moved the work out of state.

Aster's building now has a jeweler, a mortgage broker and a taco restaurant as ground-floor tenants, and a handful of lawyers in the offices above.

But that's in keeping with the overall situation of downtown, which has a record 24 percent vacancy rate for commercial space.

John Brown, a principal in the real estate appraisal firm of Duncan & Brown, has conducted vacancy surveys of downtown and suburban commercial property since 1986, and said the current 246,520 square feet of vacant space in Eugene's downtown core is the most he has seen.

"I look at it this way," Brown said. "There's a lot of opportunity downtown to make a good deal."

Brown declined to talk specifically about prospects for the Aster Building, saying he has done work for clients in connection with the auction.

Michelle Emmons, marketing and communication director for Downtown Eugene Inc., said there is a "huge opportunity" for businesses looking for office space, both at the Aster building in particular and the downtown area in general.

Emmons said she was unsure who might bid on the property.

Lane County has studied the building in recent months. But David Suchart, the county's facilities manager, said the building doesn't quite meet the county's needs.

"There's not enough square footage in that building for me to deal with it," Suchart said.


The former headquarters of Aster Publishing Co. in downtown Eugene will be auctioned. Paul Carter / The Register-Guard
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Real Estate & Housing
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 13, 2004
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