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Sybaris asks for loan from Albany Revitalization Agency

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Sybaris new location 02

The historic Oregon Electric Railroad Station in Albany is pictured in this photo from February. Sybaris Bistro owners Matt and Janel Bennett hope to purchase and renovate the building.

The Albany Revitalization Agency, which oversees redevelopment downtown, heard a request from businessmen during its Wednesday, May 11 meeting to provide a low-interest loan of up to $800,000 or more to Sybaris Bistro so the restaurant could renovate and move into the former Oregon Electric Railroad Station.

A motion to provide a $1 million loan by board member Dick Olsen did not receive a second, as other board members and staff — some of whom voiced strong support and even love for Sybaris — wanted more analysis of the impact.

“Where are you going to take those funds from and what are you not going to do?” asked Seth Sherry, Albany Economic Development Manager.

The Albany Revitalization Agency came to consensus in October 2018 to concentrate on three projects before the government body sunsets: the Waterfront Improvements Project, the Wells Fargo building and the St. Francis Hotel. But plans to redevelop the Wells Fargo building fell through in April 2022.

Restaurant owner Matt Bennett and architect Bill Ryals appeared before the government body, and Ryals said that purchase of the Oregon Electric Railroad Station was in the final stages.

Relocating Sybaris to 133 Fifth Ave. SE, most recently a location for local pizza chain Cidicci’s, would improve the Hackleman District by bringing visitors and perhaps even new residents to the area, Ryals said. “Together, we will make a brighter future a reality,” he added.

Ryals asked the board to honor its previous commitment to the restaurant, which had looked at moving into the vacant Wells Fargo building before that idea was derailed due to escalating costs.

“The commitment was to Wells Fargo. It was not to Sybaris,” City Manager Peter Troedsson said.

The Albany Revitalization Agency and Central Albany Revitalization Area board is scheduled to meet jointly to discuss the Wells Fargo building at its June 15 meeting, and Sybaris also could be discussed at that time.

The Albany Revitalization Agency board consists of Albany City Council members and uses city staff as advisors, but it is legally a separate entity from the city. The Central Albany Revitalization Area board consists of members appointed by the council, and that includes Ryals. The CARA board is an advisory group to the Albany Revitalization Agency.

The Albany Revitalization Agency board also voted 5-2 to move forward with a construction manager/general contractor method for the $15 million Waterfront Improvements Project.

Staci Belcastro, city engineer, said that the method provides the city more flexibility to respond to market conditions such as escalating costs.

A construction manager/general contractor could procure materials early, and even do limited construction before designs are finalized, she added.

Board member Matilda Novak worried about cost overruns in an era of rampant inflation. “I just feel if there’s a time to put the brakes on it, it’s now,” Novak said. She also worried about supporting the waterfront project while the board was turning down Sybaris.

The waterfront project was initially planned for two phases, but in April, the Albany Revitalization Agency rejected all four bids for the project on the recommendation of city staff, who warned that supply chain disruptions related to the invasion of Ukraine could scuttle those plans.

With the construction manager/general contractor method, the majority of the project would get done in one fell swoop, Sherry said.

The project remains on track to be completed in 2023, staff members said.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or Kyle.Odegard@lee.net Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.

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