Roseburg’s historic and city-owned Willis House has two new offers on the table, but councilors will consider just one at next Monday’s meeting.
During a public hearing on Feb. 27, Roseburg city councilors will consider an offer by NeighborWorks Umpqua, a Roseburg-based nonprofit organization that focuses on affordable housing and economic development initiatives.
Councilors heard from two offers to purchase the house at their last meeting on Feb. 13. A NeighborWorks Umpqua staff member said the nonprofit plans to renovate the house and convert it into office space for its staff and other community agencies.
The second offer came from restaurant owner Heidi Lael. She owns the Parrot House, a Victorian house on Southeast Stephens Street that she converted into a restaurant, bar and venue. She told councilors she hopes to convert the house into a bakery.
Lael’s real estate agent would not comment for this story and Lael did not respond to a request for comment. City recorder Sheila Cox would not say if Lael has a public hearing scheduled to discuss her offer with councilors, and city manager Lance Colley was unable to respond by press time.
The Willis House is a two-story yellow house with a white gazebo that is located on Rose Street in downtown Roseburg. The building — a 3,400-square-foot house built in 1874 — has had multiple offers since it was last occupied in 2012, when the city came to own it. Those offers hovered around $200,000. The city has turned down offers that were too low, a real estate agent told The News-Review last year.
Roseburg spends about $2,000 a year maintaining the 143-year-old building. Police make frequent stops to the location to check on the adjacent gazebo, where people who are homeless or transient seek shelter.
Trespassers broke into the house in December and lived in it for several days, racking up $22,300 in damages. City staff had to declare an emergency to immediately cover the costs of hiring a Hazmat-certified cleaner.
NeighborWorks Umpqua CEO Merten Bangemann-Johnson sees the Willis House as an opportunity to develop a historical asset. The Downtown Roseburg Association has expressed interest in sharing the office space, he said, as well as the Douglas County Historical Society.
“It’s a historical building,” Bangemann-Johnson said. “It should be open and accessible to folks in the community.”
The nonprofit plans to invest hundreds of thousands into renovating the house. Although it needs extensive work, like a new roof, Bangemann-Johnson said he is confident his agency can get the work done quickly. He estimates renovation costs will range between $350,000 and $500,000.
“Ultimately, when you try to renovate a historical resource like that — and in a lot of ways, it’s the most historic building in town — if you do it right, you’re going to spend more money than what it’s appraised at,” he said. “Understandably, that’s a difficult value proposition for a for-profit investor.”
Brian Kelley, the director of development at NeighborWorks Umpqua, told councilors on Feb. 13 that the agency can cover a large chunk of renovation costs through tax credits and grants for historic buildings.
Enlivening the Willis House with business activity could drive away its issues with loitering, Bangemann-Johnson said. Tentative plans include building a fence around the gazebo and house, keeping the home’s historic integrity and aesthetics in mind.
If all goes to plan, NeighborWorks Umpqua will house its property management company in the renovated building, along with staff members from its real estate development and housing redevelopment programs. It will continue operating its other programs out of its building on Southeast Kane Street in downtown Roseburg.