Arts center offer booed off stage

The Clatsop Community College Board has rejected an offer for the Performing Arts Center and Josie Peper Building.

The Clatsop Community College Board rejected an offer on the Performing Arts Center and Josie Peper Building Tuesday after impassioned public comments from people who use the center for plays and concerts.

The college had been approached by a developer earlier this month tendering an unsolicited offer on the buildings at 16th and Franklin streets for an as-yet undisclosed amount. Karen Radditz, the Realtor representing the college on the offer, said the developer intended to develop affordable, student and short-term housing for Columbia Memorial Hospital on the city block, while keeping the Performing Arts Center a “community center.”

The identity of the developer was unknown until after the meeting, when Radditz revealed it was WTJ Development, a limited liability corporation registered in October to attorney Donald Grim in Portland, according to state records.

When asked during the meeting what the developer meant by “community center,” Radditz said the developer’s response to her inquiry was “‘we’ll share it as it comes.’”

“My understanding — and I have not seen the paperwork — is that the Lum’s property that’s just … adjacent to the Performing Arts Center, is also under contract, and the due diligence period has begun on that, as well as the house to the east of that,” Radditz said. “All of that property is under contract at this point.”

The Performing Arts Center and Josie Peper Building owned by the college are on the same city block as the former Lum’s Auto Center, which currently houses the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office Parole & Probation Department. The Gordon David Lum Trust also owns a house on the eastern edge of the block. Ann Samuelson, a Realtor representing the Lum family, declined to comment on any pending offer.

Community members and some on the college’s board expressed a lack of understanding about the developer’s intent, and how the Performing Arts Center fit into an affordable housing development.

Radditz and Skip Hauke, director of the Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, were the only outspoken proponents of the offer, citing Astoria’s continuing housing crisis. Public comment was largely dominated by people who use the Performing Arts Center, which is maintained by a myriad of about 10 groups organized under Partners for the PAC, attesting to the venue’s importance as an affordable practice and performance space.

“Why would the developer want the PAC?” asked Charlene Larson, co-chairwoman of the Partners.

She said the group had been denied a meeting with the developer to inquire about their intent for the building.

Josie Peper, the namesake of the building next to the center, said the college should be wary of promises to preserve the building, and that the developer should show more than an intent to build affordable housing.

The center went up in the 1930s as the Trinity Lutheran Church. It was purchased by the college in the early 1970s and used for now-nonexistent performing arts programs. The college has not held any classes in the center for several years, but the building is a popular venue for theatrical performances and concerts.

JoAnn Zahn, the college’s vice president of finance and operations, said the building faces more than $1 million in deferred maintenance. Greg Dorcheus, the college’s physical plant manager, said the fire marshal has kept the building open but recommended some major renovations, notably to remedy the lack of a fire suppression system on the main floor and upstairs.

“I continue to not understand how the PAC and Josie Peper fit into a larger affordable housing project,” said board member Patrick Wingard, questioning how a building needing more than $1 million in deferred maintenance could help with affordable housing.

Radditz said the buyer did not know about the deferred maintenance, having not performed any inspections before a five-month due diligence period that would have kicked in after the acceptance of the offer.

Last September, the Astoria City Council rejected a request by the college for a zoning change that would have allowed an interested buyer to covert the Josie Peper Building into a second home and vacation rental. The change — from high-density residential to general commercial — would have also covered the Performing Arts Center.

Neighbors complained a vacation rental would have been detrimental to the historic Shively-McClure neighborhood.

The City Council found that second homes and vacation rentals make it more difficult for the city to attract affordable housing.