Roseburg councilors have voted unanimously to accept NeighborWorks Umpqua’s offer of $137,500 to purchase the Willis House.
Next up, the nonprofit and the city will work on closing the deal in the next couple of months. NeighborWorks Umpqua CEO Merten Bangemann-Johnson said renovation work on the home should begin by this summer. First the nonprofit will need to get approval from its board of directors, then it will need to create an implementation plan.
The historic Willis House property — a two-story yellow home and white gazebo at 734 S.E. Rose St. — has been under city ownership for several years. It has been vacant since 2012. Since then there have been a handful of purchase offers that fell through.
Roseburg’s historic and city-owned Willis House has two new offers on the table, but council…
Previous offers had amounted to $200,000 or higher. The offers came from private purchasers who eventually pulled out of the deals.
Although this is not the highest offer the city has received for the house, City Manager Lance Colley said the nonprofit plans to invest up to $400,000 into renovating the home, which the city found promising.
“It’s important to us to get this property sold,” Colley said at the Feb. 27 public hearing. “We’re not very good at managing empty homes, as we’ve found out more and more often recently.”
“We’d like to get it back on the tax rolls, we’d like to get it occupied, and we’d like to get it fixed up,” he added. “This proposal from NeighborWorks Umpqua does all of those things.”
NeighborWorks Umpqua is a Roseburg-based nonprofit organization that focuses on affordable housing and economic development initiatives. Its main office is located in downtown Roseburg at 605 S.E. Kane St. It expressed interest in purchasing the house earlier this month to use it as office space.
Nobody gave testimony at the public hearing and there was little discussion from councilors, but the offer had been discussed previously at an executive session.
“This was beat up pretty well on that day,” Councilor Tom Ryan said. “We’re not just rushing into something.”
Councilor Ashley Hicks offered a comment as well.
“I just hope that NeighborWorks deals with and knows the neighborhood they’re moving into and the expectations of surrounding businesses of folks that live there in regards to securing property,” she said of the nonprofit whose main office is two blocks away from the Willis House. “Be good neighbors and listen to and communicate the desires and concerns of the residents and business owners around you.”
Bangemann-Johnson said he intends to install fencing around the house and gazebo to deter loitering. The gazebo frequently attracts homeless and transient people, and the house had been broken into and lived in for several days, racking up $22,000 in damages.
Colley told councilors there are some fencing designs that were approved in previous purchase offers.
Hicks had emailed staff questions about the house prior to the meeting. Colley answered her questions at the public meeting. One addressed whether the house will be open to the public. Colley said it will be open to the public most of the time, since the nonprofit will operate its property management company there.
NeighborWorks will also host an open house in the building once a year in order to comply with National Registry of Historic Places requirements.
“We think we have a great opportunity now to get this in public/semi-public hands to have it be used and really get business going down on the south end of town,” Colley said. “We’re excited to have an offer that we can make work.”