Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services is merging with a similar Springfield-based nonprofit and is pushing forward with its plans to help develop a town center in South Corvallis.
WNHS, which has worked mainly on housing issues for more than 25 years in the Corvallis area, has joined forces with Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation, which runs similar programs in Lane, Marion and Clackamas counties.
WNHS also has purchased a 7.7-acre site in South Corvallis that it hopes will be used for a mixed-use development that has long been a goal of area residents. The site previously was the home of the Ford New Holland farm machinery business on Southeast Third Street (Highway 99W).
Jim Moorefield, executive director of WNHS, said the project, which also would use the nearby auction yard as part of the development, will be a good test for the new organization.
“We see a neighborhood center with housing, a grocery store, a food business incubator facility, other small businesses and space for community gatherings,” Moorefield said. “It’s a project that will call upon all the skills of our two organizations working as a team with neighbors, businesses, the city of Corvallis and other property owners.”
WNHS and the city chipped in with $42,500 apiece to pay for a marketing study for the town center, which likely would require the formation of an urban renewal district to go forward. Such a move would require voter approval, and if it comes to fruition, would put an end to a long waiting game for the region. A town center using the auction yard was part of a South Corvallis plan adopted in 1997.
The combined new nonprofit, which has not yet been named, will have an annual operating budget of approximately $5.5 million.
Emily Reiman, executive director of NEDCO, will be the top official of the new entity. Moorefield, the longtime WNHS executive director, plans to retire in 2018. Reiman will be joined on a three-person executive leadership team by Brigetta Olson, deputy director with WNHS, and Cori Riley, the chief financial officer with WNHS.
The merger process is expected to take one to two years because of the complex structures of WNHS and NEDCOR.
“Individual real estate projects are commonly developed under separate entities,” Olson said. “In the case of WNHS and NEDCO, the merger will impact 13 different corporate entities, each of which has its own group of lenders and investors. Just securing all of their approvals will take quite a while.”
Moorefield, meanwhile, will “continue to work on special projects" for the foreseeable future but withdraw from his day-to-day duties. "My focus will be on completing the merger and working on development projects we have lined up in South Corvallis," he said.
One project that Moorefield hoped to get off the ground, the purchase and redevelopment of the old men’s cold weather shelter on Southwest Fourth Street has “fallen through.” WNHS was planning affordable housing on the site, which includes the adjacent car wash, “but WNHS couldn’t secure acquisition financing that worked,” Moorefield said.
Moorefield and others said that the merger was discussed for more than a year.
“We took our time making this decision,” said Betty Schmidt, president of the WNHS board. “We’re both strong, healthy organizations and don’t want to mess with success. But we also see a future in which we’re strong and more effective working together.”
Reiman agreed, noting that the primary motivation for the merger was to maximize the ability of the new agency to be more efficient and offer a broader range of services.
“Helping address problems like wealth inequality, poor neighborhood conditions and healthy disparities is complex work,” she said. “Small organizations only have the capacity to work on one piece of the problems, so their impact is limited. This merger will give us the capacity to deliver more comprehensive approaches to communities in need.”
NEDCO board chair Vincent Martorello said Reiman was a good fit to run the combined agency.
"Emily Reiman has done a great job, and both boards have a lot of confidence in her," he said.