Corvallis Business: 10 Story Building Rumors, the Parking Problem, RiverFront II, Childcare and Staffing

The rumor mill continues on about a new building coming to town. This alleged building is to be built on Harrison between Second and Fifth, and would have 10 stories and no green space. As the rumors grew, we went to Rian Amiton, a Senior Planner in the Planning Division for a few answers. 

It starts with the new Commercial Mixed Use (CMU) Zones. As we’ve mentioned before, the CMUs are set to encourage building housing above street-level businesses in the downtown corridor as a means of creating a community feel. How has this changed how building will happen? 

To begin with, CMU rezoning has changed the maximum height for buildings from 75 feet to 105 feet. If an average floor to a building is 15 feet, then the original 75 foot limit would offer a builder approximately five floors to work with. The new limit would therefore allow for about seven floors at 15 feet per floor. However, it is possible for a builder to make plans that would offer more floors within those 105 feet – in fact, an average 10 story building is only 108.3 feet tall – giving a builder 3.3 feet to divide between 10 floors for just under four inches per floor less space. Additionally, Oregon building codes only require residential ceiling heights of six-feet-eight-inches. 

Another piece of the rumor says that there would be no requirement for green space around this new building. How can that be? While we all like to see trees and grass around the business districts, there are very few places in downtown with actual green space requirements.  

The Central Business Zone and River Front Zone – meaning the area south of Polk – doesn’t require green space. The Central Business Fringe Zone does require 25% green space, but that’s not much of the total downtown area. In other words, the green spaces locals are so used to are technically green by choice from the builder or business owner. 

Business leaders in Corvallis see the issue of green space as a very important topic. “Green space downtown manifests itself differently than it does in the suburbs,” said Kate Porsche of the Economic Development Office. 

“That space is going to look very different in a downtown area, because your expectation is different,” said Christina Rehklau of Visit Corvallis. “It’s going to be more compact and dense.” 

“If you look at the core of our downtown, Corvallis has done an awesome job creating green space with the park all along the riverfront, the way we have our street trees that provide shade and green space in downtown are also about gathering spaces,” Porsche added. 

CMU Effects on Downtown Recreation: Of course, more businesses on the street level of downtown buildings means an added need for parking.  

Brad Attig of Corvallis Foundry noted that when we begin making more parking lots – like the one created when the Burger King was remodeled into a Chase bank – that we welcome side effects such as more heat in the core of the city. He said that the answer to the need for parking is to build more density parking along the fringes of the core. 

“More parking means more cars and means it’s less walkable and less fun,” he said. “The businesses have two sides to the coin… ‘Our customers want easily accessible places to park, but also people want to come down here and recreate and meander and shop.’ I don’t think we’ve done a great job in this community with [providing] high density parking on the fringes, [providing] more gathering spaces in the core, and figuring that whole model out.” 

Attig also noted that the city has alleys that aren’t being used to their full potential.  

Could RiverFront II be in Offing: When asked which types of businesses would bring visitors to the core, Rehklau said that the preference should be to gear the business influx toward what would benefit residential areas to create foot traffic.  

“Especially because… come June, 40% of the Corvallis population leaves the building and doesn’t come back until September,” she said. This means that Visit Corvallis tries to concentrate their efforts on those months when things are quieter “because the season is good here, and to help with those foot traffic pieces.” 

In the research Rehklau’s group has done, they’ve found that the downtown and riverfront areas are what visitors like the best. She’s become a proponent of “RiverFront II” as a way to increase revenue for the local small business owner as well as to bring in shoppers – whether they be Corvallis residents or tourists. 

Childcare a Compounding Problem for Hiring: One of the major issues businesses are seeing in hiring new employees is the ability for those employees to find childcare nearby.  

You heard it before and the song remains the same: Oregon is a childcare desert. The Advocate sat down with several local people in the childcare industry to talk about solutions, but the only one that really works is to find more people who can watch children safely.  

Attig has seen that many companies don’t realize that they aren’t getting mid-level applicants to apply to their companies because they don’t have access to affordable childcare. “People just cannot find childcare to take the job,” he said. 

Samantha Alley of RE/MAX Real Estate noted that much of the childcare we have in this area is small, individual and often home-based care – under the limit set by the state to require them to be zoned as commercial childcare centers. Many of those businesses went away during the pandemic. 

“They were basically shut down unless they met [Covid] criteria, and if you were doing in-home childcare… it was really onerous to meet that criteria, so many of those people just went away and it’s going to take a while to rebuild people who have that desire and are willing to take that risk,” Alley added. 

Porsche brought up the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments (COG) which has put together a workgroup that’s focused on childcare for the region – meaning beyond Benton County to include Linn and Lincoln counties, as well as a bit of Lane County. One goal is to create space for bigger centers while fostering the smaller, at-home centers all in conjunction with the childcare offerings located within Oregon State University and Linn Benton Community College. 

“Barriers to entry in this area are low, but regulatory issues are very hard and can be challenging to navigate,” Attig added. “It’s the money side that usually becomes the real problem when you want to open up something for [20+] kids.”  

Attig spoke about a system companies in Southeast Oregon have begun where they will reserve a certain number of spots in a childcare center for a year. The spots are then offered to employees at a discounted rate. The goal is to ensure the centers have enough guaranteed slots filled to keep them in business as they grow. The side benefit is that the employees get lower childcare costs and a solid reason to stay with their employer. 

Ward Boundary Maps: The Corvallis Ward Boundary maps have been officially rearranged to represent the latest Census data. There are nine Wards that each include roughly equal numbers of residents. 

The Ward System was set up to create equality in the voting process. If there are issues you would like to see addressed for your business, the elected representative for your Ward would be the first step in getting the issue to the City Council. 

The new Wards will technically go into effect on July 5, 2022, although the 2013-2022 maps will be considered valid until the end of 2022.  

Chamber Events: Things happening at or through the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce this week include: 

Web Page Webinar – presented by the Chamber to help every member maximize their web presence on the Chamber’s pages, this virtual class will be held July 6 from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. The class takes 30 minutes, leaving ample time for questions. Register for this event here 

Wine & Mastermind – spend an evening talking business, brainstorming the keys to success, and having a glass of wine from Vulcan Cellars, located at 341 SW 2nd St., Suite 3, Corvallis. Register for this event here. 

Crazy Days – a three day event in support of local businesses, this sidewalk sale gone wild will be running July 8-10. Participating businesses include RESTYLE – Corvallis, The Inkwell Home Store, Visit Corvallis, The Toy Factory, Sibling Revelry, The Golden Crane, Heartland Humane Society, Burlap & Lace, Runway Corvallis, Running Princess, Donna Bella Lingerie, and the Whiteside Theatre. 

Find the QR code on the Chamber’s website to get the full list of participants. 

Leadership Corvallis – there are still openings in the latest Leadership Corvallis courses. Sign up here. 

By Sally K Lehman 

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