UO learns it doesn’t need downtown space
With a move to the White Stag block on the horizon, the university puts the Willamette Block building on the market
POSTED: 06:00 AM PDT Wednesday, October 10, 2007
BY TYLER GRAF
For 90 years, the University of Oregon has maintained a Portland campus at locations throughout the city – from 451 Courthouse in 1917 to its current spot in the Willamette Block building. And as the spring move-in date quickly approaches for UO’s latest move, to the White Stag Block, the university questions the financial benefit of owning two buildings in Portland.
Although UO hadn’t planned to sell the Willamette Block building when it announced its move last year, administrators at Oregon’s flagship university have changed their minds.
At Friday’s Oregon University System board meeting, the university sought preliminary approval for the sale of its current location, the 44,700 square-foot Willamette building, at 722 S.W. Second Avenue. The university bought the building in 1997 after leasing portions of it for 10 years.
The university bought the building for $2.2 million – $300,000 less than OUS’ ceiling price.
Money for both the purchase and the remodeling came from bonds, and the proposed sale must be at no less than the appraised price.
“The decision was decided pretty early in the process of moving into the White Stag block,” Assistant Vice President of Administration Brian Smith said. According to Smith, keeping the building would create redundant space, as the university would have more property than is currently needed for classes – even with the expanding UO Portland program.
“We’re in the business of education and research, so we wouldn’t hold a building just to hold it,” Smith said.
A year ago, the university was not so sure of that. The school stated clearly there were “no immediate plans to sell the university’s Willamette Block building” in a news release about the move.
The neighborhood has seen strong growth in recent years among commercial and retail sectors. Tom Hendrickson, a real estate agent with Norris & Stevens, said the building should not remain empty for long, and the vacancy will have no effect on nearby businesses.
The area’s commercial resurgence makes the building an immediate draw to potential investors. With the exception of H20 Martini Bar, which lost its liquor license last summer and was the site of a fatal shooting in 2006, businesses in the area have done well.
“(The building) doesn’t need to settle on one tenant; in fact, they might do better if they split it up,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson said the property is ideal because it is centrally located, with MAX light-rail lines on both sides. The adjacent Naito Parkway has cleaned itself up, and the businesses in the neighborhood are thriving.
“The challenge for (the university) now is actually where they are going – to Old Town,” said Hendrickson, calling the move “brave” and forward-thinking, as the university’s presence in one of Portland’s traditionally marginalized neighborhoods might continue its revitalization.
Per OUS rules, Smith said the university will offer the Willamette Block as a “surplus building” if requested by the board. The state board also regulates the custody and application of all buildings under the jurisdiction of OUS, per board statutes.