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Albany's dreams of renovating vacant Wells Fargo bank building die

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Albany Wells Fargo building

The abandoned Wells Fargo building in Downtown Albany was long-planned as the site of a new restaurant and apartments. The project, once envisioned by a trio of local entrepreneurs, died in spring of 2022 amid rising construction costs.

Plans to revive a long-abandoned Wells Fargo building in downtown Albany are dead, its prospective owner said Monday, April 25.

The news came at a meeting of the Albany Revitalization Agency, which oversees redevelopment in downtown.

The former downtown bank branch on 300 First Ave. W. has sat empty since 2019, stirring debate among agency officials about what to do with the vacant building.

A trio of local entrepreneurs, BGW Partners, envisioned a mixed-use project, complete with a restaurant on the first floor and apartments on the second, along with a new third floor.

In 2020, the trio saw Matt Bennett, owner of downtown Albany restaurant Sybaris; and Buzz Wheeler of Coastal Farm and Ranch leave the partnership.

Snow preceded by hail falls in front of the Democrat-Herald office on SW Lyon Street in Albany on April 12, 2022.

As the last BGW partner standing, Tom Gerding, building developer and owner of Gerding Companies Inc., has spent months attempting to  resuscitate the project amid ballooning costs.

BGW Partners offered $1.5 million plus an additional $25,000 down-payment for the property, beating out Linn County and two local developers for the building.

In February 2020, Gerding told ARA members the price of renovating the building would be about $10.6 million. Once finished, the building would be worth around $7.5 million.

The initial plan would have had Sybaris occupying the first floor of the building with apartments on the second floor and a third floor added. Sybaris' owners now plan to move to the Oregon Railway Electric station.

In September, Gerding revised the plan to include retail or office space on the first floor with market-rate apartments on the first and second floors.

In the seven months since, estimated costs for the project have soared by about 30%, according to a memo from Albany City Manager Peter Troedsson presented to the Albany Revitalization Agency on Monday, April 27.

"Despite several meetings with staff, exploring some creative paths forward, again, in the short term, there are no workable solutions," the memo reads.

On Monday, Gerding CEO Monte Smith agreed. With costs skyrocketing beyond its willingness to stomach, the company was abandoning the project.

"We tried everything. We went through a lot iterations, and we did what we could," Smith said.

Albany Revitalization Chair Bessie Johnson said it was unclear how much money the agency had on hand to assist with the Wells Fargo building, even if Gerding Companies were to move forward.

The agency already greenlit millions for a waterfront project along Water Avenue earlier this year.

"I'm not sure how much money we have, or what grants were given, the details just aren't there," Johnson said. "I'm not sure it would be appropriate to do anything at this time."

Still, Smith said the old bank building deserves to have a owner.

"It's historic," Smith said after the meeting. "I hope someone buys it before it's knocked down."

The Albany Revitalization Agency is scheduled to meet next on Wednesday, May 11 at Albany City Hall.

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