EUGENE, OR-The third time may be a charm for city officials here in their effort to attract the new home to all federal court operations for Oregon except in the Portland metro area. After shooing the U.S. General Services Administration away from one site and pricing them out of a second, Chiquita has agreed to sell the city its 8.7-acre cannery property and move from it quickly in order to satisfy the GSA’s timetable.

Contingent on the GSA’s selection of the site – the agency also is considering a downtown site in the adjacent city of Springfield, and will make its selection by January – Chiquita has agreed to sell its vegetable cannery to the city for $4.1 million. The city would then sell about half the site to GSA, master plan the rest and then seek a public-private partnership to develop a mixed-use project on the property.

If the GSA picks the Chiquita site, the courthouse property would anchor a city-led effort to gain access to its historically working waterfront and transform it into offices, restaurants, shops, condominiums and walkways to the Willamette River and along its bank. The city would likely sell about 4 acres on the western portion of the triangular lot to the GSA for the courthouse. The rest of the site, which includes several cannery buildings, would be cleared, master-planned, and then solicited to prospective developers interested in following the city’s plan.

Eugene’s purchase price is about $1 million higher than the value of the land alone, but Lew Bowers, the city’s community development manager, tells GlobeSt. it was the cost of doing business. “We bought timing,” says Bowers. We couldn’t have waited until Chiquita decided to close down, so we’re paying for Chiquita to move on our timetable and one that works for the feds.”

The only question that remains is whether the feds still want to work with the city. The GSA began entertaining sites from Springfield after Eugene officials and residents rallied against its first choice, a parcel in the middle of a thriving retail district, and then put too high a price tag ($7 million) on the second choice, City Hall.

Under the agreement signed Tuesday, Chiquita would lease the site from the city for $90,000 through the 2001 canning season, and then pay to remove asbestos from its buildings and clean up any contaminated soil on the site. Work on a 265,000-sf courthouse could begin the following year, assuming Congress approves the $70 million necessary to construct it. Regardless of where it ends up, the federal government is expected to keep the existing federal building in Eugene, on the block north of City Hall, to house other federal agencies, including many that now lease office space in Eugene.

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