Ramshackle. Dilapidated. Eyesore.
Any one of these words could be used to aptly describe the vacant Rite Aid building in downtown Roseburg.
The once-thriving store now sits like an abandoned relic from bygone days. The walls and glass are covered in graffiti and many of the spots that are not covered used to be. There is trash on the ground and the smell of urine permeates the air. An adjacent parking lot has vehicles that people appear to be living in.
“It makes it very difficult in our efforts to revitalize downtown when we have this huge eyesore there,” said Susie Johnston-Forte, executive director of the Roseburg Town Center. “It’s awful.”
Dale McAlpin goes even further. He owns the Silver Leaf Framing Studio across the street from the vacant building and insists that his business has been negatively affected by it.
McAlpin said that most mornings he and other business owners in the area walk the street, picking up trash, empty needles, feces and other debris left behind by homeless people that hang around the empty building.
“It’s definitely not just an eyesore, it actually houses and protects a lot of the transients,” McAlpin said.
The situation is not new. Rite Aid has been vacant since 2005 and a former Safeway located next door was also vacant for about 15 years before finally getting torn down about two years ago. Both properties have been owned for decades by the Cedolini family, who live in Northern California.
“The Safeway and Rite Aid properties have been a problem for the city for years,” said Stuart Cowie, director of development for Roseburg.
What is relatively new is the approach Cowie and other city officials are taking toward the properties in their effort to get the owners to maintain them better and keep them from being an eyesore, or even a potential danger.
Armed with a 2017 ordinance that was designed to give the city more tools to address what are deemed derelict properties, city officials are negotiating with the owners using a kind of carrot and stick approach. That is: agree to keep the properties up and we will waive some or all of the roughly $25,000 in fines the properties have accrued over the years. Refuse and we may foreclose on them.
Peter Cedolini, a spokesman for the family, said he is hopeful the matter can be resolved.
“We are still working on an agreement, but we believe we can achieve a favorable outcome that will benefit the city and the partnership,” he said.
A LONG HISTORYThe history of the Rite Aid property dates back more than 140 years.
From its construction in 1878 until 1959, the early brick building on the site housed various businesses. During the 1920s it was the Liberty Theater and in the 1940s it was known as the Star Theater. The building was badly damaged in the 1959 Roseburg Blast, and was demolished. The current building was erected a few years later.
In 2005, a new Rite Aid was built a couple of blocks away at 444 SE Stephens St., and the downtown Rite Aid has stood vacant ever since.
The building has been listed by the city as derelict on and off over the years, Cowie said. The western side of the building has a row of glass that often gets broken and then boarded up, he said.
Complicating matters is the fact the building contains asbestos, which will drive up the cost for renovation or demolition.
The Safeway store that used to occupy the space adjacent to Rite Aid was built in 1963. It featured the curved front that was common for Safeway stores back in that time period.
The Cedolini family has owned both properties for more than 35 years.
Both the Safeway and Rite Aid properties were mentioned in various development proposals over the years, but none of those plans ever panned out.
In 2012, an Idaho-based natural food store announced plans to open a store in the old Safeway building, but those plans fell through. The old store was finally demolished in May 2019, and the property now sits as a vacant lot.
The large, vacant lot seems out of place in the downtown core. Two tall light stands remain in what used to be the parking lot. The lot is lined on a couple of sides by rusted railings and a partial chain link fence.
In 2008, the Cedolinis obtained permits to renovate the Rite Aid building and demolish the Safeway, but those plans did not materialize.
In 2013, the Cedolinis put the Rite Aid building up for sale for $1.9 million but offered to sell it the city for $925,425, according to media reports. The Cedolinis said they were offering the property at a discount to Roseburg because the family wanted the city to prosper.
The Cedolinis also said at the time that if the city were to buy the Rite Aid building the family would use money from the sale to expand the 22,000-square-foot Safeway building and possibly attract another grocery store.
However, the negotiations between the Cedolinis and the city ultimately fell through.
In early 2020, the Cedolinis asked the city for permission to tear down part of the Rite Aid building. Plans called for the demolition of about 3,000 square feet of the 31,000 square-foot building. The portions of the building set to be torn down included a breezeway crossing Southeast Rose Street, an arched portion of the building’s west side, a box compactor and sign frames.
“The demolition of these structures will reduce the blight in the area and clean up the overall appearance of the existing building,” owner Tony Cedolini wrote in the paperwork filed with the city at the time.
City staff recommended approval of the request for the partial demolition.
“The site has been subject to years of neglect and is in need of rehabilitation,” staff wrote in making its recommendation.
Because of the building’s history and its location within the Downtown Roseburg Historic District, the owners had to get approval from the city’s Historic Resource Review Commission. The commission was scheduled to discuss the matter on March 11 of 2020, but the meeting was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak and the breezeway and other portions of the building that were discussed for demolition remain.
That very work is part of the ongoing negotiations between the city and the Cedolinis, Cowie said.
CARROT AND A STICKIn December 2017, the Roseburg City Council passed an ordinance meant to address the growing number of so-called “zombie homes” popping up — residential properties that were not kept up and often inhabited by squatters. The ordinance took effect in spring 2018.
Under the ordinance, the city can register buildings considered derelict and begin to impose fines if the properties are not cleaned up. It also sped up the time it takes to put a lien on a derelict property. When the ordinance was passed there were about two dozen such properties, mostly homes, Cowie said.
That number has been whittled down to about 10 properties, still mostly homes, he said.
A property is considered derelict if it is unoccupied and boarded up or generally unsecured.
“In a nutshell, this whole derelict property program is designed to motivate property owners to say, ‘Let’s clean up our property,’” Cowie said.
In May 2018, the abandoned Kmart at 2757 NW Stewart Parkway was registered as derelict — in large part because its windows were boarded up — as were the Safeway and Rite Aid buildings. The owners of Kmart worked on the building, including painting the boards black and placing them on the inside of the glass, and was removed from the derelict building list.
The Safeway was also removed from the derelict building list, but only after it accrued fines before finally getting demolished. Cowie said he believed the derelict building designation and increasing fines played a role in the decision to tear down the building.
But Cedolini said that was “absolutely not” the case.
“It was done to remove an eyesore from the entrance to downtown and to alleviate the police burden due to the continued break-ins by the homeless,” he said.
Neither Cowie or Cedolini would discuss their negotiations for a settlement agreement on the properties in any detail. Cowie did say that in general, the city wants a commitment from the family that it will maintain the Rite Aid property by keeping graffiti off it, putting in more lighting and not boarding up the exterior glass.
The Safeway lot also needs to be tended to, mostly by shoring up the fencing around the perimeter, Cowie said.
Even though the Rite Aid building is “in rough shape right now,” it’s not considered a derelict building, he said.
Cowie also said that the derelict building program was never intended to impose hefty fines or generate revenue for the city, and he hopes the Cedolini family will voluntarily agree to do a better job maintaining the Rite Aid building.
“We’re telling them, ‘You need to do all those kinds of things to make the building look presentable. If you do, then maybe we’ll enter into an agreement,’” Cowie said.
But he also said that if an agreement is not reached, the city is prepared to take further legal steps on the properties, which both already have liens placed on them.
“We’re kind of to the point that if they don’t make some decisions we’re going to foreclose here,” Cowie said.
Cedolini said the family has “tried for years” to sell the properties, but has been unable to do so because “the market had not been favorable.” The family is working on a new co-listing between a local realtor and a national broker in an effort to sell the properties, Cedolini said.
“We would love to develop and/or sell the properties to a qualified buyer or engage a development partner,” he said. “We are not a wealthy family, so this has been a tough endeavor. We are doing the best we can with the financial resources we have available. It has been a rough road with those properties and we just want to move forward.”
A LOSING BATTLEFor McAlpin, the owner of the Silver Leaf Framing Studio across the street from the Rite Aid, the fate of the empty building is not just a policy debate about a derelict property. It’s personal.
McAlpin, who also owned a coffee shop just up the street from the Rite Aid, insists that his businesses have been negatively impacted by the vacant building.
“It’s just nuts that they haven’t torn it down by now,” he said.
In addition to the unsightly building and the trash, needles and other debris left behind by the people that hang around it, vandalism is also a constant problem.
McAlpin said most of his clientele are elderly and are afraid to come to his shop or others downtown because of the number of transients in the area. Those customers worry about their personal safety as well as their possessions and cars, McAlpin said.
“We’ve had many of our customers cars’ spray-painted,” he said. “I have four tenants in this building and all of them have had their cars vandalized.”
Then there is the building itself. McAlpin said he and other business owners wage a constant, losing battle to keep the property free of trash and graffiti, not to mention the smell of urine.
“Literally today there was someone spray-painting graffiti on the side of the building,” he said. “It’s pretty nuts.”
Johnston-Forte, executive director of the Roseburg Town Center, said her group has been trying to get the city to do something about the vacant Rite Aid for years. She also said the Safeway lot could be turned into a park and outdoor concert venue. It also has been rumored to be in line for various projects, including a farmer’s market and a boutique hotel, Johnston-Forte said.
But there it sits, next to a graffiti-laden empty building. “Those two places hurt downtown,” she said.
Cowie said he and the city want what everyone else does — a downtown void of derelict, unkempt buildings.
“Ultimately what we want is the building to look good and be attractive for the neighborhood,” he said.
Cowie said the derelict property program has already had some victories. He pointed to an abandoned house in the 1200 block of Southeast Pine Street that was an eyesore for years before the city had it torn down. Nearby residents cheered the demolition. An initial permit was just issued for a new home to built at the site, Cowie said.
“Thats an example of a success story,” he said.
McAlpin said he is not holding his breath in regards to the Rite Aid property. In the meantime, he and other area business owners will do what they can to keep the property clean and free from graffiti.
McAlpin said he and other business owners try and paint over any graffiti they see on the building, but their efforts are short-lived. In the last month he has painted over six spots that had graffiti, and all already have graffiti on them again.
McAlpin said he and the other business owners get little help from the city.
“We’ve asked the city if they’d reimburse us for paint and they said no, that it’s not their building and there’s no money in the budget for paint.”