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SALEM, OR-Plans to construct a conference center including a ballroom and meeting rooms which may be as large as 72,000 sf are still on track after the City Council voted early this week to adopt the staff report from the Urban Renewal Agency which calls for construction costs of $28.8 million.

As adopted, the plan as currently laid out calls for the Agency Board to proceed with the construction; hold $2.5 million in reserve until the end of project construction; set the developer/management fee at $750,000, resulting in about $500,000 going to the “Gain/Loss Reserve”; and agree to place $750,000 in reserve for future replacement of furniture, fixtures, and equipment.

“The council adopted those four items, with the addition that if we have to dip into the secondary contingency fund, then we would have to come back to the agency for approval before authorizing any expenditures,” said Shanda L. Shribbs, Urban Development Administrator.

The legal documents to put the project in gear have not been authorized yet either, she said, but ideally that will be taken care of on July 7. Once set in motion, the construction project is expected to take 18 months altogether, with completion anticipated by January 2005. If the documents are approved on time, demolition of the existing and long-vacant hotel and restaurant on the site will proceed, with excavation for the underground parking beginning in August.

In addition to the conference center, plans are also set for the construction of a Phoenix Inn Suites with about 200 rooms adjacent to the site. “This has always been a public/private project all the way along,” Shribbs said. “The center is aimed at regional conferences. We’re not Portland. We’re not going to bring in conferences of several thousand people. But its practical to have meetings in the state capital,” she said.

The location selected is prime–sited between downtown Salem and the civic center buildings, two blocks from Willamette University, and in easy driving distance to local skiing, wineries and Indian gaming. In addition to being in the state capital, it is hoped that such a central location for the conference center will enable the city to attract and keep anchor businesses in its downtown core.

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