By Jaime Fuller
The only constant in life is change, yet many are wont to resist change. Our little downtown Corvallis is becoming a burgeoning hub, with new businesses and buildings arriving all the time. We can be delighted or dismayed by all this, but the truth of the matter is, change is inevitable. Sometimes what we think we want is vastly different from what our town needs to thrive. The construction of the Water Street Project on 1st and Jackson has been the source of a large share of controversy. This has mainly to do with the building’s height, how it blocks the view of the waterfront from patrons at Sky High Brewing, and whether it will be of benefit to the community.
The owner of this mixed-use development is Gerding Builders LLC, headed by Tom Gerding. He explained that in the early 2000s, Steve Weidler, owner of Water Street Market, purchased that particular building which also came with a large chunk of the property next to it. The current Water Street Project was Weidler’s original idea in developing the land. Since Weidler and Gerding were acquaintances and had worked together on other projects, Weidler contacted Gerding as the contractor and builder, as well as one of the invested partners for the project.
“It ultimately worked out where it was most convenient for him to sell the property to myself and my wife,” said Gerding, “so we created an LLC. My construction company is building the project for my LLC.” Gerding is putting the building on the property at his own risk. He said he hopes that what he builds is desired. “I have done a number of developments over the years, but this is my first residential development,” he added. The complex will contain 27 apartments on the upper three floors, each with a balcony that faces the alley. Most will offer two bedrooms, with only a few one-bedroom and three-bedroom units. The apartments will be rented out through Sterling Property Management, and Gerding estimates the rates will be between $1,300-$1,800 depending on the number of rooms.
The commercial space is appealing because the height of the first floor fits existing historic buildings along the waterfront and also has the necessary fixtures to allow food service. The first floor will be split into three commercial spaces utilizing a total of 4,490 square feet. The largest space has been leased by barre3, a nationwide fitness studio that combines dance, yoga, and Pilates into a full-body workout. When asked whether these commercial spaces will benefit the community, Gerding stated that supply and demand dictate the success or failure of any given business. The demographic that barre3 draws will be a fantastic fit for the waterfront, he said. The center space has not been leased yet, and the south end is in negotiations. This potential second vendor will be a relocation of an existing business and will be a great addition to this area, Gerding said.
Commercial tenants have to be approved by the city. Once the owner finds an interested tenant, they must go to City Hall to submit a permit application that will go through an approval process. “We’ll review all that,” said Jared Voice, associate planner at Corvallis Development Services. “We’ll review the use. We just make sure that use is allowed and they won’t require any more than is available.”
Gerding made it clear that he is building the minimum square footage required by the City. The Riverfront Zone has height standards that were put in place in 2006 to create a higher density downtown. According to Voice, “These standards require buildings to be a minimum of three stories in height, and a maximum of 75 feet in height, and to maintain a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 2.5.” The FAR is the ratio of the ultimate building square footage compared to the lot size it is built on. The approved plans for the Water Street Project show a four-story building with a maximum height of roughly 57 feet and a FAR of 2.52, therefore complying with the standards of the zone. Gerding explained that his company had to build three floors to add the necessary square footage.
When asked if Corvallis was in need of more apartments downtown, he laughed, saying there can’t be more when there aren’t any to begin with. He has definitely heard over time that there is a desire to have apartments downtown. Gerding Builders is going to do its best to have a parking stall for each apartment unit while still maintaining current available parking. The building does not have any specific environmental certification, but there are certainly some elements of Earth Advantage Standards being used.
One of the most contended opinions is that now the Water Street Project is blocking the views from patrons on the first three floors of Sky High Brewing. “We don’t have a restriction on view obstruction,” added Voice. “It’s not whoever is first is the winner.” Sky High added a fourth level this past July, and people seated on the roof have a decent vista, mainly to the west, perfect for gazing at the sunset. Not that a glamorous view is necessary…if you want that, you can always go to Marys Peak. Or Fitton Green. Or Bald Hill. Beautiful views abound in this valley. That Sky High offers a whole other awesomeness is another story.
The plan is the building will be open by mid-September, while barre3 is tentatively scheduled to arrive by early October.