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Spires family land about to become commercial center

Fifty acres of agricultural land, located just north of the Boulder Falls hotel and the Oregon Veterans’ Home, is about to become a new commercial and residential center, with stores and businesses serving new residents on the north side of Lebanon.

That’s the vision for Larry and Nikki Spires, whose family ties to the property – and the community – go back generations.

Larry Spires has big plans for the parcel situated on the north side of the Albany Santiam Canal, which will be called the Mill Race Station. It will feature commercial and residential components that will be built in three phases, the first already under way.

THIS FIELD is the beginning of the Mill Race Station project, below, located north of the current Samaritan development.

Located between Highway 20 and Reeves Parkway and intersected by North 5th Street, it will eventually include a grocery store, apartments, condominiums and a gated residential community, medical offices, medical-related light industry, room for expansion by COMP Northwest medical school and Linn-Benton Community College, and a self-storage facility.

The project is the result of careful planning and lots of research, he said.

It was instigated when Spires was approached several years ago by officials from Samaritan Health, he said. They were looking for ways to accommodate the needs of medical students, faculty and other residents of the new apartment complexes that have popped up to the south of the Spires’ property.

“I give them a whole lot of credit for enabling me to think seriously about doing that,” said Spires, who has put together other developments as well as running a large Lebanon-based wealth management business that extends throughout the West.

“I never had any idea that in my lifetime we would develop that parcel.”

The property has been in Nikki Spires’ family as far back as 1886, Larry Spire said, a result of a donation land claim from William H. Gore.

Nikki Spires’ grandfather, Roy Fitzwater, a farmer north of Lebanon, lost the parcel in a card game at the Lebanon Elks, Larry Spires said.

“In the mid-’70s I bought it back from Glenn Huston, who was a state senator and owner of Huston funeral home. Over time I have added acreage to it that was contiguous.”

Spires said he spent “six to eight months” studying the feasibility of the project, “whether this could be doable.”

He determined that it was. He has three file storage boxes of documentation – including lots of canceled checks, he noted – that evidence the work he’s put into Mill Race.

“I’m looking to the future of Lebanon as it grows,” Spires said. “I haven’t forgotten the past because I am part of the past.”

Consequently, he said, he’s being very focused in what types of businesses he wants to see in the complex, all geared to needs of surrounding residents.

“It’s going to be nice, but it’s also going to be affordable,” he said. “I don’t want to give the impression to the community that this is beyond their scope economically.”

That’s one reason why, “right out of the box,”  the first phase of development is starting with 260 storage units.

“People need the convenience of being able to walk from all those apartments,” he said.

Water will play a large role in the development, he said. A lake of approximately four acres will sit in the center, bordered by three-story buildings that will house commercial tenants on the ground floor, professional services on the second and condominiums on the upper floor.

“It’s the old adage of living above the shop,” he said.

Also planned are some 125 apartments and a gated community of 20 homes that will face the canal. Two separate one-acre ponds are also in the works, he said.

“Water is always a great asset to bring to a project.”

The commercial component of the development will be adjacent to Highway 20, which will include a grocery store.

“I’ve done surveys of the students,” he said. “We know what they want. They’ve told me. They have minimal free time. They want prepared, fresh food they can take home and put in the microwave.

“In our selection of restaurants, we hope to have a variety of types of restaurants desired by the community, including a full-fledged buffet-style presentation for those of us who like to have control over the spatula, what we want and how much.”

He said he is working “diligently” and is in negotiations with a “serious candidate” to establish a grocery store, and there will be a filling station, a car wash and convenience market off of the highway, Spires said.

The goal, he said, is to meet people’s needs – particularly newcomers to the community.

“I’ve been here all my life. I only know a few of those people,” he said. “What does that mean? I’m still here, but there’s a lot of new people who have come from some place else that may have different tastes or desires or want than the old steadfast. We have to know what they want.”

For instance, he said, he plans to seek tenants “such as Sears or Penney’s” that will provide quality but affordable wares.

“I don’t want to give the impression to the community that this is beyond their scope economically,”  he said. “It’s going to be nice but it’s also going to be affordable.”

Also, he said, “we’re not trying to compete with Walmart or big box stores.

He said he’s looking for retailers and businesses that will have staying power, with business plans and the right mix of services.

“We’re looking to the future, not the past, of Lebanon,” Spires said.