1. RFP closing Dillard plantRoseburg Forest Products shut down its particleboard plant in Dillard in August, which put the 179 workers there in limbo. RFP officials said they would try to find work for the plant employees elsewhere in the company. The Dillard plant had been operating since 1965. Some work continued to be performed at the plant for a couple of months as operations wound down and eventually came to a close.

RFP officials said the move to close the plant was part of a restructuring in the company. RFP also announced a multi-million dollar investment in new technology at its western manufacturing operations. Roseburg Forest Products was founded in 1936. The privately-owned company continues to be one of North America’s leading producers of timber products. RFP owns and manages more than 600,000 acres of timberland in Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia. RFP also continues to be an economic engine in Douglas County, where it employs about 1,600 people.

2. Hot real estate marketThe unusually hot real estate market in Douglas County has been something of a Tale of Two Stories: wonderful for sellers, yet downright painful for buyers looking for affordable homes.

The numbers speak for themselves. Statistics for Douglas County, from the multiple listing service as of Nov. 31, are as follows: The median sales price rose from $246,000 a year ago to $289,000 now, an increase of 17.2%.

Local real estate professionals say that currently the inventory of available homes stands at only about 1.6 months. A more typical inventory, which gives buyers time to think through a home purchase, is about six months, those professionals say.

But behind those numbers are individuals and families seeking to buy a home, but often thwarted because of the lack of affordable homes available.

Victoria Hawks, co-owner and principle broker of Hawks & Co., Realters in Roseburg and a real estate professional in the area for more than 30 years, shared the following:

“We have had clients who made offers at, or more than, list price who competed with as many as 14 others for the same home. It happened over and over, and is very discouraging for buyers. Bidding wars are common. In one particular case, we had an escalation clause which limited the top price, but included a second chance to be successful, which worked. The net change was $41,501! In a current situation, I have a client who seeks something in Roseburg for $300,000 or less, with at least 2 bedrooms, and 1.5 baths. I checked again today, and there is only one. Very disappointing.“

How long will this sellers market last? Depends who you ask. Hawks said the “experts” are predicting long term gains due to housing shortages throughout the country.

Others say this market can’t continue too much longer and the bubble is about to burst.

Either way, Hawks said she gives the following advice when homeowners ask if they should sell now and reap the benefits of the current market: “My answer is, if you can afford to purchase another home (and find one) in advance of selling your current home, please do so. Otherwise, you may be homeless in less than a month.”

3. WinCo supermarket comingWinCo Foods announced plans to build a supermarket at the site of the vacant Kmart in the 2700 block of NW Stewart Parkway. Plans call fo the new single-story store to spread out over just under 73,000 square feet and be open around-the-clock. In addition to tearing down the old Kmart, WinCo plans to reconfigure the parking lot, install new landscaping and perform other improvements to the site. The total site covers about 9.45 acres. The property also contains the Big 5 Sporting Goods building at 2655 NW Stewart Parkway. That building is about 10,000 square feet. WinCo said it has no plans to change the current business operations of Big 5.

The proposal was approved by the Roseburg City Council in June. However, that decision was appealed to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals by a group called Safe Streets Roseburg, which raised concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety at the site.

In late November, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals on upheld the City Council’s decision to approve the project. The city can start issuing permits to allow construction.

4. Restaurants for saleDarrell Orth knew a little something about Pete’s Drive-in in Roseburg when he bought it five years ago. After all, Orth had worked there cutting french fries from the sixth through the eighth grade.

Business has been good — in some ways, too good, he said. The restaurant has grown so much over the last few years that Orth said he has precious little time to spend with his family. So in October he put Pete’s up for sale in the hope a new buyer would step forward to keep the legacy going.

Orth was not alone. Pete’s is among a handful of restaurants that wereoffered for sale in the 2021. The list includes Tomaselli’s Pastry Mill & Café in Elkton, The Steamboat Inn in Idleyld Park, and Brix Grill, The Parrott House and Little Jean’s Sandwich Shop in Roseburg.

Restaurant owners who put their businesses up for sale gave myriad reasons for that decision — some want to retire, while others simply want a career change. Those who own their buildings and perhaps adjacent property were also taking advantage of a hot real estate market.

And there was COVID-19 and its rippled effects, which turned the restaurant industry on its head and made an already difficult business more challenging. That was reflected in a 2021 poll of restaurant owners in Oregon that showed that 90% of restaurant owners in the state said they had higher labor costs than pre-COVID-19, 83% were paying more for food and other operating costs, 77% were paying more for rent and utilities and 71% were understaffed.

Those struggles dimmed the outlook of those restaurant owners, according to the poll. Some 41% of those Oregon restaurant owners polled said it would be a year or more before business returns to normal at their establishment, and 20% of the owners said things would never be the same.

Heidi Lael, owner of the historic Parrott House restaurant in Roseburg, put the restaurant up for sale in June, saying she wanted to take advantage of the hot real estate market. The 1890s-era Victorian house at 1581 SE Stephens St. covers 5,816 square feet and sits on 2.36 acres.

“I love my beautiful Parrott, but timing is everything,” said Lael, who has owned the property for more than a decade and spent years renovating it.

“Anybody out there will tell you the real estate market is on fire. I’ve owned the Parrott for a long time and yes, it’s my baby. But I have other properties in the area too.”

5. Equestrian center plans unveiledThe numbers alone are staggering: 2,800 acres, $120 million investment, $130 million a year in revenue, 500 permanent jobs, 5,000 people at events. But behind those numbers is the potential for a seismic change in Douglas County if the proposal for an equestrian-centered resort, slated for a swath of land near Metz Hill Road and west of Interstate 5, becomes a reality.

The Pegasus Equestrian Resort & Venue is the brainchild of brothers Quinn and Drew Millegan, investors who live in McMinnville and operate the Woodworth Contrarian Fund hedge fund and Millegan Brothers LLC, among other ventures. The proposal has won initial approval from the Douglas County Planning Commission.

Plans for the project are as ambitious as anything ever proposed in the county in recent memory. The multi-disciplinary equestrian venue will include five indoor arenas — at a cost of $55 million — outdoor grass and sand arenas, a dedicated combined driving course, an equestrian cross-country course and four full-size grass polo fields for equestrian competitions. The project also calls for a $35 million, 150-room hotel resort and spa facility with restaurants, meeting rooms and convention facilities.

The Millegans and others involved in the project said it would be an economic boon to Douglas County. They estimate that construction could start toward the end of 2022 and that work would provide 841 jobs on site, and another 687 jobs elsewhere in the state. Once completed, the venue would employ about 500 workers — half of them full-time — and pay an estimated $800,000 a year to the county in property taxes, the Millegans said.

Mid Oregon Builders collapseJoseph Russi and his former company, Mid Oregon Builders, is a story of unfinished homes, unpaid loans, fines and wages, and general mismanagement and allegations of crimes that never seems to end.

Over the last couple of years, Russi and Mid Oregon Builders, have been repeatedly sued for non-payment and breach of contract, fined more than $300,000 by the state for a host of workplace violations, and had a dozen Oregon Department of Revenue liens placed against him, including one in the summer of 2021 for $340,000.

Because of those problems, Mid Oregon Builders had work halted on at least 85 of its homes in Douglas County. Russi and co-owners David Duncan and Shea Cambridge dissolved Mid Oregon Builders in June, leaving dozens of homes unfinished and reportedly more than 50 employees without paychecks or their W-2 forms so they could pay their taxes.

Russi is also the target of a complaint lodged with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries that accuses him of a myriad of criminal actions, including sexual assault, tax evasion and forgery. The bureau confirmed it has an active investigation ongoing in connection with the complaint.

In November, a judge upheld an earlier ruling ordering Russi and his wife Deborah to pay more than $5 million to a family member for mishandling a family trust. That family member recently filed another complaint in which they allege that the Russis committed fraud and embezzlement, and should be ordered to pay nearly $3 million more for damages not covered in the first case, bringing the total they would have to pay to $8.18 million, plus interest, attorney fees and other associated costs.

New businesses openedWhile 2021 was difficult for many area businesses, in large part due to COVID-19 and the challenges it presented, there were some rays of sunshine, notably in new businesses that opened here.

A partial list includes:

Crumbl Cookies, which opened to long lines in May. The popular place for a sugar fix is located next to Five Guys restaurant in Hanna Heritage Place, 1500 NW Mulholland Drive in Roseburg. Five Guys opened in late 2020.

Mountain Mike’s Pizza opened in January at 772 W. Harvard Ave., to the delight of students at Roseburg High School a couple blocks away. This was the second Mountain Mike’s to open in Oregon. The other Mountain Mike’s is located in Medford. Both are owned by franchisee and area developer Jim Smith. He also opened the Cascades Coffee House next door to the pizzeria.

Out in Oakland, Vince and Katrina Gaeta completely retooled Turkey Hall, located at 121 NE 2nd St. They remodeled the dining hall and event center with a western theme, compete with extended wooden bar. The couple also renovated the old Tolly’s restaurant, turning it into Skog’s. That is located at 115 Locust St.

Down in Winston, Sam Gross opened his second Loggers Tap House at 41 NE Main Street, where it intersects with Highway 42. Gross also owns the Loggers Tap House

in Roseburg. The Winston location spreads out over nearly 4,000 square feet, plus the patio. It is designed to hold about 75 people comfortably inside and another 40 or so outside. And Gross isn’t done; he has also announced plans for a new Loggers that he intends to build from the ground up on 6 acres of land he bought overlooking the Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua River.

Several new businesses opened in downtown Roseburg, including the Wine Destination, located at 526 SE Jackson St., Whiskey Creek Rustics, located next door at 530 SE Jackson St., and Jackson Street Provisions, located down the street at 424 SE Jackson St.

There is also Hallman Woodworks, which opened in a storefront on Main Street.

Scott Carroll can be reached at scarroll@nrtoday.com.

or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter @scottcarroll15.

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