The Albany Revitalization Agency voted without opposition on Wednesday night to approve BGW Partners’ 180-day option to purchase the Wells Fargo building, 300 First Ave. W., for $1.5 million.
The move came after the Central Albany Revitalization Area Advisory Board recommended to accept the deal in an earlier vote on Wednesday night that also was without opposition.
BGW Partners will have roughly six months to conduct studies with engineers and contractors and evaluate the building’s potential and redevelopment options.
The group will pay the city $25,000 to work with officials on a final design, and reserve the ability to buy the building and a parking lot.
Among the area’s most prominent businessmen make up BGW partners. Involved in the group are: acclaimed chef Matt Bennett of Sybaris, who plans to move his restaurant to the Wells Fargo building; general contractor Tom Gerding of Gerding Builders; Buzz Wheeler, owner of Coastal Farm & Ranch.
Architect Bill Ryals, representing the group, said that he believed that the final design would add additional stories on top of the Wells Fargo building, which used to stand six stories tall. Sybaris and other retail establishments would be on the first floor, and apartments would be on the additional levels.
Several parking options are possible, but much of the public parking could be retained, Ryals said. A modified parking structure, with spaces partially below ground level, could be created, and a roof also could be put over the top of the parking creating a plaza or gathering space, he added.
“We care very much about what goes on down here and that it’s done right,” Gerding told the CARA board.
Wheeler said the building could be a centerpiece for downtown Albany, and that Bennett’s involvement would make the structure even more of a draw.
“We can do some ‘wow,’” Gerding added.
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Wells Fargo closed its downtown Albany branch in August.
The Revitalization Agency purchased the Wells Fargo building in February for $1.5 million as part of its efforts to revitalize the area.
Two other bids, neither as open-ended as BGW Partners’ proposal, were discussed during the board’s meeting.
Linn County offered the city $1.5 million in a cash offer. The county would use the Wells Fargo building as a county clerk’s office, and construct 24 apartments in the space currently used for parking. Ground level parking would remain on the first floor of the new structure, however.
Downtown developers Marc and Anni Manley, who renovated the Flinn Block, offered the city $1.6 million for the structure and parking lot, or $1 million for the building. The Manleys envisioned adding restaurant and retail space to the Wells Fargo building.
Albany City Councilor Bill Coburn, on the board of both the Central Albany Revitalization Area (CARA) and the Revitalization Agency, said BGW Partners’ proposal, and having 180 days to finalize the design, brought value to the city.
CARA board member Maura Wilson said that she was intrigued that BGW Partners’ proposal added floors to the Wells Fargo building without affecting existing parking and possibly adding parking. She also didn’t want an office building on “primo” downtown Albany real estate.
Sam Flande, CARA board member, said the BGW Partners’ proposal would allow the city to evaluate designs in the scope of a parking report that hasn’t been finalized.
BGW Partners’ proposal also would benefit the nearby St. Francis Hotel building, if that is redeveloped, said Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa, who serves on both the CARA board and the Albany Revitalization Agency board.