Puck’s Donuts, a Phoenix landmark known for its colorful statue of donuts, was gutted by the Almeda fire. file photo
No permits have been sought yet to rebuild businesses in Phoenix damaged by the Almeda fire. But a new program started by a local economic agency is designed to help companies rebuild.
As of April 15, permits had been issued to rebuild 114 single or multiple-family residences, out of 266 destroyed by the fire. There had been no permits issued to rebuild any of the 41 commercial structures destroyed in Phoenix, but demolition permits for 14 site cleanups had been approved.
Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. has hired a full-time disaster recovery and resiliency liaison to help businesses in Talent, Phoenix and Jackson County areas hits by fires. Assistance will include walk-in sessions at the Phoenix Civic Center on Thursdays along with outreach efforts.
Phoenix City Manager Eric Swanson and Planning Director Joe Slaughter said that businesses may be waiting to see consumer demand return to the city as residences are rebuilt before they commit to new construction.
“These businesses are supported by the residents that live near them locally. I think they are waiting to see what rebuilding looks like from the residential perspective,” said Swanson. Some burned out business owners have put up for-sale signs on their properties, he said.
Slaughter said the slower pace of business site cleanup may have little to do with the lack of businesses seeking permits to rebuild. Residences were given priority before businesses for free, federally sponsored site cleanup.
“The bigger issue is that there was quite a bit of commercial vacancy in Phoenix before the fire,” said Slaughter. “If there was a huge demand for commercial property in Phoenix, the market would have dictated that owner would take on cleanups.”
But a number of business owners have contacted the city to find out about options for rebuilding
“In most case where we have heard from people, there is a plan to do something more or bigger or better with their property,” said Slaughter.
Teck Plumbing Inc. has talked about rebuilding and expanding its facility. The firm has placed a trailer on its site, which it operates from, said Slaughter. Wellburn Electric Inc. has also held discussions with the city. The firm moved into a commercial building next to its location that burned.
Just after the fire, Puck’s Doughnuts and Phoenix Self Storage said they planned to rebuild. But Slaughter hasn’t heard anything recently from those businesses. Puck’s was destroyed, and the storage business lost buildings.
Slow response to rebuilding in Phoenix could also be, in part, due to owners leaving the area or being underinsured, said Colleen Padilla, SOREDI executive director. Waiting for sites to be cleaned may also be a factor, she said.
SOREDI’s program will seek to connect businesses with governments and resources and to determine how to move ahead on rebuilding. “We are trying to go there and be present, rather than them trying to track us down,” said Padilla.
“They are trying to see what we’ve got to do as a city to make it as easy as possible for (businesses) to come back,” Mayor Terry Baker said of SOREDI’s work. “We will do everything we can to accommodate what they need.”
The organization is trying to understand what business needs are through assessments, said Padilla. Staff will listen, then attempt to figure out what will take businesses to the next step.
Terrill Ropers was hired to be the liaison with support from a $150,000, two-year technical assistance grant from the federal Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The program’s goal is to help businesses find resources, to connect with government and to build community.
Roper has 20 years of experience as a banker, most recently with Banner Bank, where he was a branch manager in Central Point and a mortgage lender. Roper has already visited 40 businesses. On April 15, staff went to businesses handing out flyers about the program
There are no charges for the services, which are available to Phoenix, Talent and Jackson County businesses affected by the Almeda or Obenchain fires. Businesses struggling with COVID-related problems can also participate, Padilla said.
Walk-in sessions will be held at the center from 9 a.m. to noon Thursdays. Masks will be required and social distancing will be in place. A kickoff is set for April 29. On May 6, County Commissioner Dave Dotterrer will be present. Phoenix City Councilor Al Muelhoefer and Talent Councilor Ana Byers will be on hand May 13. Meetings are set to run through June, with an extension possible.
Representative from utilities, financial institutions, Energy Trust of Oregon and United Rotary are also expected to be at the sessions.
SOREDI has established a small grant program that has $45,000 available. It was funded with SOREDI money, with $10,000 from Rogue Credit Union and$10,000 from Umpqua Bank. SOREDI has also established a 501c3 organization to receive tax-deductible donations.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at [email protected].