The Retreat at Oak Creek, the planned housing complex for more than 1,000 Oregon State University students, has moved from the planning stage to the execution stage.
Landmark Properties, a student housing development company based in Athens, Georgia, has received public infrastructure, excavation and grading permits and has begun work on the 33-acre Sather property just west of the campus.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday as a lineup of excavators, bulldozers and dumptrucks sat poised on the site, with orange plastic fencing wrapped around the more than 500 trees that will be protected.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Blair Sweeney, vice president of development Landmark. “It’s a complex project. There were a lot of moving parts that required permits.
“We’re just happy to be over the finish line and get started.”
The Sather property, north of the OSU Foundation building near the intersection of Southwest 35th Street and Western Boulevard, was annexed into the city by the voters in November 2012.
Opponents of the project expressed concerns about traffic and congestion and whether student housing was the best use for the site. Proponents argued that the proximity of the site to the campus made it perfect for student housing.
Landmark had to go through an arduous 16-month process to receive wetlands permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of State Lands because of its plans to move more than 100,000 cubic yards of dirt into wetlands.
Wetlands issues had to be resolved before the city could issue any permits.
“It took longer than we had hoped,” Sweeney said. “It’s a significant project, and all of the agencies we worked with were really fair, very good to work with.”
Sweeney and his chief contractor, Tom Gerding of the Gerding Companies, also praised the city of Corvallis for their assistance during the planning process.
The city has developed a new strategy for working on major projects such as the Retreat at Oak Creek. A “project manager” is assigned to the development, with pre-development meetings set up to solve problems and address questions as early in the process as possible.
“I don’t work in City Hall every day, and I don’t always know where to go,” Sweeney said. “Having a point person to go to is extraordinarily helpful.”
Kevin Russell is the project manager for the city on the Sather complex.
“On a project like this, where it’s taking a long time, more coordination was needed,” Russell said. “This is the process that any (applicant) would follow. This is just larger and more complex than ones we typically see.”
In the coming months as the development moves forward, Russell said city inspectors will be on the site daily to make sure the project “complies with the approved plans.”
Because the project does not deviate from the city’s land Development Code, no public process will be required, Russell said.
Gerding and his subcontractors, most of whom are from the mid-valley, will work first on leveling the ground and setting up the street and utility infrastructure. Then, they will start to build the 330 units.
Gerding said that there will be up to 300 workers a day on the site at a minimum of $1.5 million in payroll per month.
“And these are skilled jobs,” Gerding said. “The impact on the local community and region is huge.”
Kevin Dwyer, executive director of the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce, spoke at the groundbreaking about the benefits of the project.
“This is another opportunity to provide student housing in a community that desperately needs it,” Dwyer said. “This project and others going forward eventually will free up some single-family homes now occupied by students to be used by families for starter homes and workforce housing.”
Sweeney said Landmark is “comfortably on schedule” to open in the fall of 2015. It is imperative that complexes such as Retreat at the Oak Creek be ready for the start of a school year because it is difficult to attract tenants in mid year.
“Student housing is all we do,” Sweeney said. “We’ve got a lot of construction expertise on our team. Student housing is a very schedule-driven business. “You don’t want to be late.”